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'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' to build group home in Northeast Baltimore

Milan Dower stood next to her soon-to-be housemates with a look of bewilderment on her face. The sound of police sirens and nearly 100 screaming well-wishers meshed with the sight of a gigantic "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" tour bus driving down the walkway of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. She knew what that meant. Tears began streaming down her face.

Dower, 12, and six other members of Boys Hope Girls Hope, an organization that provides at-risk youth with a group home-style setting, learned that they would receive a new home from the popular TV show.

"This guarantees that I will be successful," Dower said after being flanked by host Ty Pennington and the show's celebrity designers. "It's indescribable," she said.

For the second time in less than three years, the ABC reality show that rewards families with over-the-top living spaces has come to Maryland. But it's the first time the project will take place in Baltimore.

The 11,120-square-foot home, which is the biggest in the history of the series, is being built on a vacant corner lot in the 3800 block of Fleetwood Ave. in Northeast Baltimore. The lot is the site where a house was burned by a serial arsonist in 2007.

The new home will mix traditional Baltimore elements with a lot of modern style, said Shane Swisher, spokesperson for Excel Homes, a Camp Hill, Pa.-based custom modular manufacturer, which will be leading construction of the project along with the Maryland Community Builders' Foundation.

"It's a modern twist on a row home," Swisher said.

The lot was purchased last year by Boys Hope Girls Hope with plans for building a group home for girls. The organization had previously operated a boys home about a block from the lot.

Construction is scheduled to take a week, and nearly 1,000 people are expected to volunteer to help transform the home at a whirlwind pace. Crews typically work night and day and were scheduled to lay the foundation Friday evening.

The girls were surprised with the news of the home while filming an interview with a local television station. They were under the impression that they were being interviewed for the community service they perform as members of Boys Hope Girls Hope.

Students in the program must maintain a 3.0 grade-point average, have no disciplinary problems in school, complete household chores and perform 100 hours of community service each year, said Marcia Meehan, executive director of Boys Hope Girls Hope.

The program takes about $400,000 each year to fund the house. That number is expected to double with the addition of the girls home.

"We don't get any type of government funding," said Meehan. "It's all a result of a really strong, caring community."

The boys home has been operating in Baltimore since 2001. The girls program has been operating in a nonresidential capacity since the spring. The program, which was founded in 1975, exists in 16 cities across the country and four in Latin America.

"This house is a phenomenal gift," Meehan said. "It will change the lives for many years to come. As the kids' lives change, the lives of the families will change."

Asia Cole-El, 13, said she has been a fan of the show for years. "They do good things on the show," she said.

"A lot of us were doubting that we would get it," Cole-El said about the new home. "To see that bus come with Ty Pennington and everyone was shocking."

Dower's mother, Lauren Simone, was overcome with emotion as she saw the Extreme Makeover team arrive.

"This house is going to give her a chance," she said, after hugging several members of the show.

The entire "door knock" process took about two hours Friday morning. There were several takes of Pennington and a group of 50 volunteers arriving to surprise the girls.

The Inner Harbor event was a different take on the show's traditional door knock, which usually takes place at the family's home. This season, the show will surprise recipients at nontraditional places, producers said.

The episode titled "Kids Take Over the Makeover" will air in September when the show enters its eighth season. Producers said the two-hour episode will include child actors from the Emmy-nominated show "Modern Family," including Ariel Winter, Nolan Gould and Rico Rodriquez.

While the home is being completed, the girls will be vacationing in Los Angeles, courtesy of the ABC show. They and their program director, Kristy Norbert, are scheduled to leave Saturday.

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" last visited Maryland in October 2007 when a Port Deposit woman and her two children received a new home in Cecil County. That show aired in January 2008.

Many details of the Baltimore project will not be revealed until the show airs, but Ajia Williams, 10, wasn't concerned with all the bells and whistles that usually come with an "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" project.

"I just want to come home to a place that we can come home to study and play and have fun with my friends," she said.

Shaoline Holloman, 14, said she is grateful for the help of the community.

"It's great that we have the whole community helping out," she said. "I was shocked. I couldn't believe that people like them would want to help us out."

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