- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009

The “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” formula provides foolproof television: find a worthy needy family, enlist volunteers, collect donations and build a new home.

But with the show in the District this week to rebuild a rundown community center, it has also become an opportunity to highlight the work of government - because in Washington, even show business takes a back seat to politics.

On Friday, three Obama administration Cabinet secretaries are scheduled to visit the show’s construction site, the Fishing School in Northeast Washington, to talk about education, safety and green building.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu will visit because his agency has been instrumental in making this “one of the greenest building projects of ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.’ ”

The Energy Department even flew in advisers from its Buildings Technology Integration Center to help train the building team on how to use state-of-the-art technologies to produce a building that will use 60 percent less energy than a typical home.

Lani MacRae, who works in the Department of Energy’s Energy Star Program, said officials saw the show as a great way to bring visibility to high-performance building and hopefully get home buyers to ask their builders and renovators to incorporate such measures in their homes.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is scheduled to talk about the importance of after-school education programs.

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis is scheduled to discuss workplace safety. There has been one accident - a construction worker dislocated his shoulder. But on a site with hundreds of workers and volunteers scurrying around, safety has been on everyone’s mind.

Warrenton, Va.-based Burch Builders Group LLC has donated its services and manpower to the project. The company typically builds four to six homes in a year, company President Tim Burch Jr. said, but instead is building two homes in the space of a week.

“There is quite a learning curve,” he said.

And with the learning curve of fast building with green products comes more than 2,000 volunteer workers at both sites, who give their time to finish the herculean projects. Other companies in the area have given money and time and the United Way has coordinated the effort.

The recipients are amazed.

Leo Givs is the executive director of the Fishing School, so named because the focus is about “empowering people to sustain themselves for a lifetime.”

After beginning its activities in 1990 on a shoestring budget of $2,100, the organization, which tutors and mentors children and provides a host of after-school activities, has been the recipient of donations from foundations, individuals and corporations. But nothing like this, Mr. Givs said.

“All of these entities, who for the most part didn’t know each other, came together in their hearts and minds with one singular vision to make this possible. We’ve never experienced anything like this,” Mr. Givs said.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty stopped by Wednesday to thank the volunteers and take in the site.

On Thursday, 17 fire department recruits came for what the officials described as community training. The recruits unloaded trucks, smoothed dirt and carried components of a sprinkler system into the building.

Fire Sgt. Ralph Thompson said the experience was both rewarding and meaningful to the recruits.

“Their worst day is our normal day,” he said of a fireman’s interaction with the public after they are called to an emergency. “This allows them to be doing something positive before they go back out on the street.”

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