Haywood project gains momentum in Pennington contest

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Jun 30, 2014

When you see Ty Pennington on your TV screen, chances are there will be plenty of joy, tears and hope to follow.

Most people recognize the charismatic home-design expert from the years he spent hosting the mega popular “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” show on ABC. On each episode, he and hundreds of volunteers would build incredible homes for people with incredibly touching stories of hardship and perseverance.

Pennington and his crews not only made much needed improvements on people’s homes, they went above and beyond for the family in need. They also traveled to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina to help communities heal and rebuild.

At the end of every show, Pennington would yell out his famous line, “Move that bus,” to reveal the finished product to the anxious family. The reaction was always elation and disbelief. The show averaged more than 15 million viewers per episode during the height of its popularity.

Pennington has since branched out to other projects, but still his passion lies in helping others. According to his website, he wanted to expand the idea of giving back to a community after “Extreme Makeover” wrapped up it’s last regular season in 2012.

He then partnered with Guaranteed Rate, one of the 10 largest retail mortgage lenders in the U.S., and announced the Ultimate Neighborhood Give Back Challenge in April.

“At Guaranteed Rate, we’ve always believed in making the communities that we call home better places to live,” Victor Ciardelli, president and CEO of Guaranteed Rate, said on their website. “The Ultimate Neighborhood Give Back Challenge is our way of saying thank you to the thousands of organizations doing amazing work in communities around the country, often in the face of enormous economic challenges.”

The Challenge’s grand-prize winner will receive $50,000 from Guaranteed Rate to help the winning community complete a project and Pennington will be on site one day to help. The five runner-up projects will receive $10,000 a piece.

Hundreds of communities all over the nation, including Haywood County, submitted a project for consideration. Haywood’s proposal is to turn the former state prison in Hazelwood into a halfway house, emergency shelter and soup kitchen. Completing this project would pave the way for other social enterprises.

Nick Honerkamp is one of the lead organizers of the Haywood Helps project, the umbrella organization within Mountain Projects that is spearheading an anti-poverty campaign in the county, including the prison project.

Honerkamp said getting this project done would be just the tip of the iceberg. Haywood Helps, which consists of volunteers, churches, nonprofits and local governments, has big plans to improve the lives of those in Haywood County. This is just the first step.

"We have big plans beyond this," Honerkamp said. "Once we've got this done, we want to get to a place where we're creating livable wage jobs and help the people we're serving find employment."

Even though Haywood County’s submission was one of the last to be submitted for voting on Facebook during the first round of voting, it quickly surpassed the others in voting polls. Pennington and Guaranteed Rate were tasked with selecting the top 50 semi-finalists to move to the next round.

The semi-finalists were chosen based on the number of votes, the impact the proposed project would have on the community, the ability to execute and popularity of the project. With huge community support online, Haywood’s project received more than 2,000 votes in the first round and was chosen as a semi-finalist on June 17.

The next step was for semi-finalists to submit a project timeline and a short video expressing why the project should win. Project organizers, already anticipating making it to the semi-finals, had a video ready to be posted on the Give Back Challenge Facebook for the second round of voting.

Honerkamp said he has been blown away by the online support of the project. When people share the link and say, "vote for our project," he knows the community is vested in making it happen with or without winning this project.

Haywood’s video, produced by Chris Pruett Designs, now has more than 2,800 votes — more than any other semi-finalist. Voting will continue until July 8 and then Pennington will announce the six finalists July 15. The grand-prize winner should be announced Aug. 1.

Honerkamp said there are two paths — if Haywood wins, the project will be on hold until Pennington can get here to help, but if Haywood doesn't win, the project can begin in the next few weeks and fundraising will continue. The project is estimated to cost about $225,000 without donations of supplies and volunteer labor.

The video says Haywood Helps has raised $60,000 so far, and Honerkamp said on Friday that two, $5,000 donations came in and Haywood Helps also was awarded with a $25,000 grant from the Human Hurt and Hope Fund.

While there is no promise in the Challenge guidelines that film crews will be coming to record the winning project’s progress for television, it is hard to believe Pennington would be working on the project without a film crew close behind.

When he heard about the contest, Honerkamp said he knew Haywood had something special.

"You've seen houses flipped but you've never seen a prison flipped," Honerkamp said. "I hope a TV show will come and tell our story to the nation of how a community can come together to solve large problems while respecting each other's differences and working together."

Honerkamp said the main focus right now is fundraising. To donate, make checks out to Mountain Projects with a memo line "Haywood Helps." You can also donated online by visiting the Haywood Pathways Center's Facebook page.

Keep sharing and voting to keep Haywood’s project on top — visit http://bit.ly/1vJi54g to vote for Haywood’s project.