On Record: Spread the cheer

By the very nature of your work, you get lots of requests for charitable donations. And you’re glad to help – especially if your community benefits.

But I’m wondering if you should think twice if “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” comes calling in your area.

This show stirs up excitement by getting entire communities behind building homes for People Who Deserve Help – usually selfless givers who have a host of problems, including life-threatening diseases, disabilities and/or financial woes – and who have a house that is decrepit or inadequate or both. The show whisks this needy family away to Disney World, usually demolishes their home and then replaces it with a higher-end abode – all in a week. The family returns to their dream place amid tears and cheers.

This may be entertainment, folks, but I question whether it merits your help.

Know this: “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” would not be in its sixth season if it wasn’t making money. According to Entertainment Weekly, the show ranked in the top 20 in television ratings this fall. Ratings translate into revenue.

Quite simply, the producers of this show are relying on your generous nature to make them bucks. One contractor I know – after watching his people work around the clock to clear the site for an Extreme Makeover home – soured on the entire experience when he overheard a TV exec brag about how much money his company was going to make.

But also look at those who are being “helped:” their previous home may have been flea-ridden, but it also came with low property taxes. Many are shaken by the new bill from the county courthouse, not to mention the increased utility and insurance costs involved in so much additional square footage. And then there’s the increased income tax that comes with all those extra furnishings and goodies. One recipient briefly put his house up for sale (and took it right off again after the hullaballoo generated), one has gone into foreclosure and still others have appealed to the community for additional financial help.

This is charity?

There’s no doubting the feel-good factor of this show – which has won two Emmys – is good for its corporate sponsors. In September, the National Association of Home Builders even gave it the first-ever Special Achievement Award for Contributions to the Home Building Industry.

But for the local contractors – upon whom much of the burden of construction rests – the rewards are questionable. They devote significant manpower and equipment (with logos blacked out if it isn’t the same make as an episode’s corporate sponsor) and their contribution is reduced to few fleeting seconds of show time – if they’re lucky. The show sucks up both a contactor’s and an area’s available charitable resources – people are just plain tuckered out after devoting 24 hours a day to such a big push.

Instead of playing Extreme Santa to just one family in your area, a much better proposition is to lend your hand to efforts that spread the cheer throughout the year. While a wheelchair ramp, newly graded city park or even a 1,500-square-foot ranch house may not have much of an entertainment factor, they rank high in satisfaction for both the givers and receivers. More important, any money made goes back into the kitty to help others – not to a television show producer.