I was blessed with the opportunity to volunteer as a lead in the catering tent from July 31st to August 7th in Ottawa, Kansas with Extreme Makeover Home Edition. Along side me was my husband Bill who volunteered in the catering tent and then quickly moved on to helping build Gina and Allen Hill’s new home.
Reflecting back on our week in Ottawa, Kansas with Extreme Makeover Home Edition I recall meeting the most phenomenal people, and making lifelong friends with people from around the world such as China and Canada as well as different areas of the United States. Many freely opened up and shared with me their personal journey with mental illness. As the walls of the Hill’s home went up it was as if we all knew we were in an environment where we could openly and safely share our losses, near losses and challenges that we face each and every day.
One such remarkable person I met August 4th while I was working in the catering tent was Cowboy. He shared with me that he had experienced traumatic brain injury. In addition, he discussed his suicide attempts and subsequent recovery. Here was this man who had endured so many challenges mentally and physically who wanted to selflessly help build the Hill’s home. He continued to show up on site throughout the build. Saturday, August 6th I was out on a semi-truck helping volunteers unload cases of water when a person ran over and said there was a gentleman in the catering tent asking for Stacy. She said he would only talk to Stacy so I went to the tent wondering who it might be. There was Cowboy sitting at a table with his friend who also has traumatic brain injury. Cowboy had driven over 400 miles that day round-trip from a family reunion back to the build site so that he could do some more volunteer work. He handed me handwritten lyrics of a song and proceeded to sing, very softly, “If We’d All Say a Prayer.” This is a song dear to Cowboy’s heart because his father would sing it at family reunions over the years. In addition to giving me the lyrics he gave me paperwork about brain injury.
The Hill’s new home stands as an extraordinary representation of the awareness surrounding mental illness that occurred that week in Ottawa, Kansas and will continue to occur when Extreme Makeover Home Edition Kansas airs in the fall.