Volunteers clean the street in front of the Keefer home in Etters, Pa. Photo courtesy of Angie Wert.
The story of Brian Keefer, 24, a United Methodist and a college senior, captured the attention of the Emmy Award-winning “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” and ABC-TV viewers can tune in on Friday evening, Oct. 21, to hear it.
In the summer of 2008, Keefer was a sophomore at Pennsylvania’s Lock Haven University when he broke his neck in a gymnastics accident, paralyzing him from the chest down. Life changed dramatically for the all-around college athlete. He was a volleyball player and coach, record-holding track and field athlete and president of the college gymnastics club.
When Keefer came home from the hospital, he discovered friends from Fishing Creek/Salem United Methodist Church in Etters, Pa., had converted the downstairs of his parents’ home into a bedroom and bathroom for him.
Going back to school presented more challenges for the young man, who now required round-the-clock care. Steve Keefer retired early and moved to the college campus to be his son’s primary care aide. A dorm lounge became a living area for the two men.
Keefer switched his major from health and physical education to recreational management, with a track in therapeutic recreation.
Fast forward to 2011 — three years after the accident. Keefer, set to receive his degree next May, was ready for post-graduate living quarters that would allow both independence and accessibility to family assistance as needed.
As the family pondered the situation, someone contacted “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and prayed their nominees — the Keefers — would make the cut.
In this borough of fewer than 1,000 people in York County, news travels quickly. “We had heard rumors that ‘Extreme Makeover’ was coming to town,” recalled Bonnie Moody, church secretary. However, no one knew if the Keefer home had been chosen.
Fortunately, it was.
Brian Keefer (left) serves as best man in a church friend’s wedding. Photo courtesy of Susan Liberati.
The “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” episode features the show’s first remodel in five years, assisted technology to help Keefer regain his independence in the house, a makeover for the Lock Haven University student lounge and a college party demo.
Regular viewers of the reality show will hear Ty Pennington belt out his famous “Move that bus!” As the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” webpage explains: “It’s extremely uplifting, as the renovated home always belongs to a deserving family. It’s extreme transformation. And it’s extremely community-oriented.” In just seven days, a team of designers, contractors and hundreds of workers complete their tasks.
When the Keefer home remodeling started on June 19, volunteers flooded into town. So much help came from outside the community that some of the family’s neighbors and church friends who wanted to lend a hand were crowded out of a spot.
“It was quite an undertaking,” Moody said. “There was a huge outpouring of support from the church,” where the Keefer sons — now 22, 24, 28 and 30 — once sang in children’s and teen choirs, acted in plays and participated in youth group.
While the remodeling project was in gear 24/7, most of the volunteer work happened after regular business hours, and most of the filming occurred during the day.
The team remodeled the current family home and created a fully accessible wing for Keefer with a separate entrance. The new wing includes two bedrooms, a bathroom, a combined kitchen/living room and a therapy room. A major addition is a pool with a lift system, essential to Keefer’s ongoing therapy.
Dawn Keefer, a medical technologist at York (Pa.) Hospital, said her son, who undergoes therapy a couple of times a week, has regained some movement in his arms.
“I’m waiting for him to walk,” she said confidently. Optimistic her athletic son will recover and regain mobility, she believes it is not a matter of “if” but “when.”
She said the experience has strengthened her faith. She counted “all the ways we’ve seen God intervene in Brian’s life. Even though he broke his neck, he never had to have a tracheotomy, a neck brace or a breathing apparatus.”
Through it all, the Fishing Creek/Salem congregation has stood with them, sending cards, packing picnic lunches to take to the hospital and donating gift cards for gas.
“The day Brian had his accident,” Moody recalled, “we were in the middle of Neighborhood Fun Night, a community-outreach event.
“Then we received word that — just a mile from the church — Brian had been involved in a gymnastics accident and was being rushed to the Hershey Medical Center.”
Fun Night came to a halt as members and friends hurried to the hospital to rally around the family.
“We’re a large, but tight-knit, congregation,” Moody explained.
Steve and Dawn Keefer join their son, Brian, before he addresses a college audience. Photo courtesy of Dawn Keefer.
Fishing Creek/Salem member Angie Wert and her husband, Kevin, who live on the same street as the Keefers, joined the remodeling crew.
“Through all of the chaos on our normally quiet street,” she said, “it was a great honor to be able to be a part of ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ for this amazing family. Letting God’s light shine for the Keefer family was something I will never forget.”
Another church member — Dave Kline — was thrilled to be part of the makeover for “friends that have a strong faith in God and (are) active in witnessing their faith.”
The Klines and the Keefers have been friends for more than 15 years. “I have sung beside Brian in our men’s choir,” Kline said. “I’ve been one of his Boy Scout leaders as well as one of his church youth group leaders. Last month, Brian was the best man in my daughter and son-in-law’s wedding.”
Helping with the remodeling, he noted, provided “a unique opportunity to join with the community and participate in something on a whole different level. … A new home wasn’t the only positive from that week. God was working to change lives.”
Kline said Keefer “has handled the accident, therapy and impacts to his life and education with incredible maturity and class.
“Brian has a story, and none of us knows the ending.”
Note: The Keefer episode will be the first show of this season to air on a Friday night. The show will air on Sundays through mid-October. This is the ninth season of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.