I have never watched ABC’s hit series “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” without getting goosebumps, at the very least. A recent episode featured an incredible rehabilitation project at a school for deaf youth. My heart strings weren’t tugged. They were yanked. I was enthralled with the stories of the kids, and deeply moved by the incredible transformation which took place.
But, sadly, Extreme Makeover has been has had a very shaky record of success. When the projects ended for many of the recipient families, and the celebrities were replaced with utilities bills, their homes became a suffocating hardship. Six of the families have actually gone into foreclosure. For these six families, the Extreme Makeover experience made a big splash but became a big burden.The ongoing costs and maintenance required for heating these huge homes and keeping the swimming pools operable were exorbitantly and unaffordably high.
These families struggled with a gift they were not prepared to receive. Tracy Hutson, an interior designer on the show, responded to these foreclosures: “I think our hearts were in the right place, but we just got carried away.”
Tracy’s reflections to her failed charity projects mirror feelings we all have experienced after our own misguided compassionate endeavors. Like the producers, donors and celebrities on Extreme Makeover, we often swarm into poor communities with our cameras flashing. We generate a firestorm of enthusiasm, but so often our results fall woefully short of our noble and charitable intentions. Our hearts were right, but our outcomes were wrong.
To their credit, the producers of Extreme Makeover have since adjusted their approach to ensure a higher level of success: They are building smaller homes with more manageable upkeep and they are working with recipient families to ensure they are capable of maintaining their new homes. Likewise, the solution to our failed charitable efforts should not be to abandon Good Samaritanism altogether. Instead, we need to intensely scrutinize our efforts, retool where necessary, and ensure that those on the receiving end of our efforts are partners in the process.