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Looking ahead after the ‘Makeover’

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer
James and Vonda Friday and their seven children, five of whom are adopted, have received one of the biggest gifts this holiday season, a new home built by the cast and crew of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
Their eight-bedroom home, located on Moore Street in Lincolnton, was unveiled Saturday evening along with an additional surprise — House of Hope. The facility for the nonprofit organizations was constructed in the strip mall near Big Lots in Lincolnton.
House of Hope is a place where both foster families and other needy families in the community can obtain living necessities at no cost.
Vonda said it’s been a dream of hers that she never thought would come true.
“House of Hope has always been my passion,” she said. “I live and breathe for that thing.”
She told the Times-News Wednesday in an exclusive interview at her new home that the nonprofit facility is “very dear” to her heart. “I’ll be able to help so many people,” she said.
The family anticipates opening the facility to the public in January but must first get some by-laws in order and make sure the building contains as many necessities as possible.
While Vonda operated a similar nonprofit facility in Lincolnton about 5 years ago, she said it was listed under the name of another organization but that people in the community have remained with the charity and its concept.
The Lincolnton natives, who met and fell in love at Lincolnton High School several years back, want the community to know that they don’t feel differently as a result of this month’s events.
“I don’t want people to think that this house is gonna change us,” Vonda noted.
The family plans to continue giving, and on Christmas Day, is even set to hand out several of the items and toys that ABC gave them to needy families and children in the county. The couple noted that they’ve already gotten several families’ names from local schools and support groups.
“I’m used to being on the giving end,” Vonda said. “I’m not a receiver.”
For the last eight years, James and Vonda have fostered more than 25 children, adopting five siblings, also known as the “Fab Five,” in April. The couple said early on they never had plans to adopt, but they seized the opportunity when it arose.
Vonda noted that prior to being adopted, the five siblings, who include a twin boy and girl, had each been bouncing around among different foster homes. Their arrival at the Friday home this past spring was the first time in four years that they had been together, James said.
The Friday children range in from six to 21 and do include biological children.
Although starting early next year Vonda will be running the House of Hope facility, which thanks to ABC was presented with two years worth of rent, she said she has no plans to quit her current job as an administrative assistant at the Lincoln Cultural Center, where she’s been since July.
Vonda previously served 12 years as a city police officer during which time she frequently witnessed the neglect and abuse of area children. She said the career only encouraged her more to care for orphaned children. Her aunt, Capt. Cindy Monday, still works for the local department.
Throughout Wednesday’s interview, the Fridays continued to pour out their appreciation for the community and counties beyond for their overwhelming support and help in coming together for the family’s surprise blessing this season.
In September, an unknown source nominated the family, who first learned of their home makeover win on Dec. 11, the same day the show flew them out to Jamaica while their new home was being built.
The family still has no idea who nominated them and were shocked Saturday to see the thousands of local people who “had their backs,” Vonda said.
“Everyone has been so supportive,” James said, especially of his neighbors.
They especially praised Sears and Wal-Mart for their services and donations as well as Therman Anthony and son and all the names they may have forgotten to mention.
Most of the materials from the family’s previous home, where the couple lived for the last 12 years, have since been donated to a state facility where they will be re-used. Plans to conserve the materials were a decision that the family made, not the show, Vonda said. In addition, bricks from their old home were used to construct portions of their new house.
Scores of cars drive by the Friday home each day to admire the colossal structure decked out in lavish Christmas decorations, a similar site on the home’s inside, where a 20 foot tree stands in their living room. James said more people pour into the neighborhood after work hours.
“It’s like McAdenville,” he said. “It’s a lot to take in.”
Despite some of the negativity that has come with such a public event, the Fridays have no doubt that a higher power has blessed them and granted them with even more opportunities now to show the community generosity.
“I really haven’t been able to sleep,” Vonda said. “It’s been so overwhelming.”
She described her experience with the show’s cast and crew as being surreal and noted how their energy was amusing to watch, especially host Ty Pennington. “I had to pinch myself just to see if he was real,” she said.
Vonda hopes that through her family’s story and experience, others throughout the nation will be compelled to foster or adopt.
“Be one to step up,” she said. “Don’t just talk about it; do something about it.”
She said for her and James, it’s never been about themselves. “Truth be known, we have gone without, so others can have,” Vonda said.
The couple added that they’re not opposed to adopting more children in the future, regardless of the child’s race. They had the same mindset during their years of fostering. “We didn’t choose…whether black, white, Hispanic—they just called and we accepted,” Vonda noted. “Not one time did we ever look at race.”

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