It was a lot like the former TLC show “While You Were Out,” except Andrew Dan Jumbo didn’t do any of the carpentry and host Teresa Strasser wasn’t there to welcome Ginger Patterson and her family home.
Instead, it was a week-long gathering of Patterson’s friends, family and fellow teachers and staff from Mountville Elementary School who came together to make over her house and surprise her with new paint, floors, furniture and other work.
“No one’s ever done anything like this for me,” Patterson said, admitting to being in tears – happy tears – when she saw what had been done to her house.
It has been a long five years for Patterson, who hasn’t been with her first-grade class at Mountville Elementary since mid-December. She was diagnosed with stage four cervical cancer more than five years ago, which spread to her lungs, then her femur, then in December, her brain.
She and her family – husband Erik, daughter Erika and son Fuller – went on a cruise the week of Jan. 21 to the Bahamas. It’s something she’s always wanted to do and it gave the foursome the chance to be together. She had plans when she got back to paint her living room.
Fellow teachers, friends and family, however, had other ideas. Patterson’s brother-in-law, Jeremy Storey, is a police officer and managed to get the key to the house when he told her she should put the house on the “keep check” list while they were gone. (The keep-check program does not require residents to hand over their keys.)
There was a motive for the deception though. Jan. 21, the MLK holiday, meant teachers were out of school. The work began.
“It was really like a community work day,” said Niki Storey, Patterson’s sister. “We had 20 or 30 people here.”
They started by painting the living room a sunny yellow, but soon realized the house needed a little more TLC. The house was built in 1976 and still had its original carpet. It had been steam-cleaned a number of times and had a big crease in the middle. When it was ripped out, there was mold underneath.
“We said if we paint in here, it’s just going to make the carpet look worse,” Niki Storey said.
The group called a local flooring provider who came out and installed new laminate floors in two days.
“The floors are my favorite,” Patterson said.
But the floors meant the volunteers also wound up painting the hallway and all the trim in the house. Then they decided the kitchen also needed a new color.
They replaced much of Patterson’s furniture, getting her a new recliner and couch for the living room and a donated desk for a front room they turned into the office. They moved the dining room table to the kitchen, which Patterson had always wanted to do. They mulched and landscaped around the house and even put up family pictures and the children’s artwork in the halls, which Patterson had never gotten around to doing. They replaced the bedding in the master bedroom.
“We had a good time doing it,” Niki Storey said. “We had food. We were here late most nights.”
Everything was funded or donated by the group and the used furniture was taken to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
“I don’t think we were afraid she wouldn’t like it, I think we were worried about what she would think of what we got rid of,” Niki Storey said.
Not to worry. Patterson loved it.
All the volunteers were there to surprise her and her family when they got home from their trip.
“When I got out of the car I didn’t see anyone, then I noticed the yard and there were new rocking chairs on the porch,” Patterson said. “Erik and Erika ran to the door and when they opened it all I could see was the floors. The floors have been my dream for a long time.”
She admits to wondering if she was going to get a bill, but only briefly. She’s tried to get out of her sister how much the makeover costs, but no one’s telling.
“All you need to know is, a bunch of people love you,” Jeremy Storey said. “This is something that if you had the time and money, you would have done yourself.”
Patterson has been a teacher at Mountville for 12 years after working in Meriwether County four years before that. Both her children attended the school. She is their current teacher of the year and calls her co-workers a sweet group of people.
The Mountville staff always rises to the occasion to support the students and staff at MES,” said Principal Debra Brock. “The gesture to go and just paint at Ginger’s house evolved into something bigger simply because we care. She’s part of the Mountville family and welcoming her and her family home to a make over was just a small gesture to show just how much we care. Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
Patterson said she’s going to keep fighting her cancer, and her “to do” list for the house isn’t done, she wants to give Erika her own room makeover.
But she’ll be forever grateful for the jumpstart her friends gave her by doing the rest of the house.
“It means a lot to me that my children will have a nice house to grow up in,” she said.