Hemmis Puts Her Heart into Extreme Homes
- Laura MacCorkle
- 2011 23 Sep
If you’ve ever tuned in to ABC Television’s top-rated Extreme Makeover: Home Edition series on a Sunday night over the past eight years, chances are you’ve seen that one of the construction crew members is a carpenter who’s always wearing pink.
But . . . it’s not what you’re thinking.
No, there’s no big, burly man in pastel overalls walking around with a hammer or some power tools. The carpenter in question here is none other than Paige Hemmis, a carpenter/designer and a self-taught home improvement expert who loves to wear pink and always gives her heart to every home and family she’s been tasked to help on this home (and life) transformation series.
The founder of Tuff Chix, Inc., a company that sells durable and fashionable work-wear for women, Hemmis knew from a very young age that in her heart of hearts she just wanted to help people. But she didn’t know it would be through carpentry or her role on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which has won multiple Emmy Awards for its work in renovating, repairing or rebuilding the homes of deserving families and real-life heroes across the nation.
As a child, she wanted to be a teacher. Or a doctor. Or a world traveler. Or even a wedding planner. While in college at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Hemmis taught CPR, became a licensed Emergency Medical Technician and then graduated with degrees in both theology and psychology.
But still, she hadn’t found that “just right” niche. It was sometime after she founded a real estate company that bought and renovated houses and developed rent-to-own solutions for tenants that Hemmis discovered a love for construction. Ever resourceful, she quickly educated herself in all things drywall, cabinetry, electrical and plumbing. And in order to win tools so she could fix even more homes, Hemmis then auditioned for a television series called Monster House. After appearing on a Christmas episode, she was discovered by producers of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. And the rest, as they say, was history.
As the ninth season of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition premieres on Sunday night, September 25, 2011, Hemmis continues to find her time on the show a blessing in her life. “It’s amazing we get the opportunity to travel our country helping families redefine the place they call home,” she says of her experience. “It’s an honor to help, and my life will be forever changed by it.”
I spoke with Hemmis recently and asked her to share what and who we can expect to see this season, what sets Extreme Makeover: Home Edition apart from the rest of reality television programming and why working on a show like this keeps touching her heart after all of these years.
Give us a sneak peek into the first episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition this fall.
Well, it’s season nine, and we’ve been working on it for a while now. And this one, at the beginning of it, we actually pull the bus up on to the White House lawn and shout “Good morning!” to the Obama family. And the one that airs on September 25 is going to be with Michelle Obama. She comes out and helps us. The family [being helped] gets to meet Rihanna, so we’re starting out with a couple of big hitters this year. That’s the first one of the season. And the last one of the season we’re doing our 200th episode that’s going to be in Joplin, Missouri, and it’s going to be seven homes in seven days. So we’re keeping our fingers crossed, and we’re hoping we can get that done because we’ve never tried that before. We actually haven’t filmed that yet. I think we’re filming that next month, and we’re all nervous about it.
I understand that on one of this season’s episodes you worked with a company that helps design homes for families with special needs. What was that like?
It’s a company out Los Angeles: Synn Labs. They’re the greatest guys, and they call themselves “dorks.” And I’m like, “You guys are brilliant; you’re not dorks.” They find ways to use technology to help others, and we met them at the end of last season. We did a house for a man who was like an all-state baseball player, and he was in a car accident and was now quadriplegic. He used to go out and play with his kids, and he played baseball himself.
So these guys at Synn Labs made a Sip ‘n’ Puff. They use that Sip ‘n’ Puff technology where you literally are in your chair just using your mouth to control a batting cage. So he could pitch to his son again, and that was amazing. There was not a dry eye in the house. We were all crying, because it was the first pitch he was able to throw to his son since the accident. And that’s what those guys do. They use the greatest technology and figure out ways that they can help people through technology.
What other special guests or interesting families have you worked with so far this season?
A couple shows ago—so it will probably air in mid-October—we had Dwight Howard on who was very helpful to have around. He’s like 7 feet tall. There was stuff I couldn’t reach and I was like, “Dwight could you be a love and help me out here?” A little girl had saved her sister from an oncoming car and got hit herself and had one of her legs amputated. And her goal was to play basketball. So we had a few basketball players come out and help us, and Dwight was one of them. And then also this week we’re in Oregon. And the mom of this family . . . she has a couple autistic children, and she runs a boot camp for other moms in the area. So the kids kind of play together while they work out, and she doesn’t charge people anything.
But this week we had Chris Powell from Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition come over, and he’s been helping me all week put in a state-of-the-art facility in this woman’s backyard so that she can continue her boot camp. But let me tell you . . . here’s a thing or two about boot camp: I am sore just from working with him this week. And we only did a boot camp that was probably 15 minutes. And that was two days ago, and I can barely walk [Laughs].
As a person of faith, does working on a show like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition become more meaningful to you because of what you believe?
Yes, it is for me. At first when I went on the road I thought, “I’m not going to be able to get to church and not be able to keep that schedule and have that kind of network back home that I was really involved in before the show.” But what I found is that you do not need four walls and an altar to experience God because, my goodness, I have experienced so many amazing people who have come out and helped us build these homes. The families themselves . . . every family we’ve helped has been very spiritual, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence and the fact that we get to hear from them [on the show]. The one we’re helping now . . . she was a youth pastor and now she works for a company, but she still has that same that drive. It’s almost like she’s being driven by someone else or some other force. I think if you’re not a believer and you come work on our show, you end up walking away a believer because God’s speaks to everyone in such different ways and you see it every single day in our job sites.
Why do you think it’s so important for viewers to see people helping people each week? It seems like it can have the same kind of impact that hearing someone’s personal testimony in a church service can have.
It is! Yeah, that’s exactly it. I hadn’t thought about it that way. But that’s what it is. We’re hearing testimonies every day and I always think like . . . the shows we do where we highlight one family, I would love to do a show on all the people who come help us. We hear these amazing stories, like why they put on a blue T-shirt and take the day off work or the week off work to help us. We just hear testimonies all day long. And I think that the biggest compliment that we get is that we inspire people to get out and help in their own communities. If we inspire someone across the U.S. to go out and help their next-door neighbor, I think we’ve done an amazing job.
In considering all of the prior jobs or previous training you’ve had in your life, it seems like you've been designed by God to help people in tangible, hands-on type of ways. Would you agree with that?
When I was little, I went to Catholic school for twelve years. And I remember in first grade they gave us an assignment that we would have to do 40 hours of community service before we graduated. At the time, I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh. I’ll be dead before I get 40 hours.” And that seemed like so long. My mom was so wonderful. She’s like, “I’ll help you. We’ll go out, and we’ll do it together.” And we went out and helped in the community, and I remember that feeling the first time I helped. It was like, “Okay, it’s not a chore. I actually feel really good about this.” And by the time I graduated, it was like hundreds and hundreds of hours, but I loved that feeling of putting a smile on somebody’s face or helping out. And I take it back to my mom and the school that I went to that they instilled that in me and that it went from a chore to something I absolutely loved.
My path has kind of gone all over the place, and I always knew that I wanted to help people. I wanted to be psychologist and a doctor, and then when I was in medical school I was like, “Uhhh not for me. I want to help people in different ways.” I didn’t really know how that road would lay out, but I just trusted that everything happens for a reason and it would all turn out and God would bring me on the right path. And I really feel like that has happened.
Do you have a life verse or a special scripture that you like to meditate on?
There’s a lot, but probably 1 John 4:7-8. And it’s “Beloved, let us love one another …” Because everyone basically . . . I’m summarizing of course . . . basically everyone has God within them, and they need to see that in everyone and share that. And even studying theology, I studied all sorts of religions. And I feel like they all had that common thing of like “help my neighbor” or “do unto others as you would have done to you”—that same kind of theme whether they called it “karma” or they took it directly from a Bible verse. It was that give of yourself and that service. And I love that. So that one is probably my favorite, although there’s probably a lot of other ones. But that’s the first one that comes to mind.
I think it’s great that you’re a role model for women or young girls and show them they don’t need to be intimidated by power tools or carpentry. Do you embrace that kind of responsibility?
It’s funny. When I started, I thought “Okay, I’m just going to be a tough chick. I’m going to go out there and show guys that I can do just as good a job as they can.” Being a woman, what has happened is that I got a lot of fan mail from a lot of moms and young girls. So I didn’t plan it that way, but I love that. I love that I’ve taken on that role, but it also gives me an extra sense of responsibility of like, “Okay, I can’t let them down.” I need to show them that it’s not about being a girl in a man’s world; it’s about following your dreams and doing what you want to do, whatever that is. So I love that that kind of just happened through the job. I didn’t seek that, but I love that responsibility.
Beyond Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, I know you’re involved in many other projects. Would you talk a little bit about what else you have going on right now?
I started Tuff Chix to provide work gear for women ‘cause I couldn’t find any gloves or tool belts that actually fit me. I realized that there are a lot of women out there in construction, so I started the Tuff Chix company to provide that gear for women. And also just two weeks ago now I got my broker’s license, and real estate is my love. That’s my hobby. A lot of people, especially a lot of girls, do online shopping. My online shopping is real estate . . . like I look at the real estate web sites all day long. And so that’s my fun, and that’s my hobby.
I’m also working on another show right now that will probably be out in the next year or so. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition takes my first time, but I’m working on a show that helps couples get into their first home and how to save money and saving money in interesting ways that can get them into a home. We’re shopping networks right now, so we haven’t decided on a name yet.
There are some viewers out there who perhaps lump all reality television shows together as just "bad programming." How is Extreme Makeover: Home Edition different from the rest?
Well, you know I think when we started we were up against only shows that either voted each other off the island or stabbed each other in the back. That’s reality TV. That’s all they had seen. They hadn’t seen a show that’s good for other people, and now I think the climate has change a little bit more. And people will still watch reality television even if they know we’re not stabbing each other in the back. So there might not be that drama that you can get like on the Jersey shore or anything [on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition]. It feels good to help people, and it feels good to watch that. And if you feel inspired just a little bit to help people by watching our show, then I say tune in.
How has your experience on the show changed you? From your first season 'til today, can you see growth in your life or in your skill set?
Well, it’s funny ‘cause I my relationships have become a lot stronger. When you’re faced with a difficult schedule like we are, the real cream of the crop people you have in your life really step forward and they rise above. At first I was still trying to do everything and be friends with everyone, and you realize, “Okay I’m gone for 10 months out of the year . . . who’s going to be praying for me back home or showing me support back home?” And even if I don’t pick up the phone to call someone for three weeks, when I do they’re like, “Oh, I love you and I miss you.” So for me my relationships have become so much stronger even though I miss them so much. But I think it sheds a light on that, too. Whatever you have in your life, hold on to and really appreciate because we work with these families [on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition] who have lost so much. And you realize that it’s very precious, the relationships we have in our lives. I’ve realized that a little bit more over the years.
The ninth season of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition premieres with a special two-hour episode on Sunday night, September 25, 2011 at 7/6c. For more information about Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, please visit the official site here. To learn more about Paige Hemmis, visit her official site here.