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Building a Reputation

The challenge: turn a former convent into a home for troubled children in just three days. If this sounds like an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, that is exactly the idea.

WCVB has adapted the hit ABC reality show into a new community-service initiative. Its first project, Extreme Makeover: Boston Edition, converted a one-time nunnery into a new facility for the Home for Little Wanderers, a local family and children’s services nonprofit, in time for Christmas.

“We’ve tapped into the spirit of the popular show. Boston has never done anything like this before,” says WCVB President/GM Paul La Camera.

Fortunately, this is one television station that has a staff knowledgeable about hammers, nails and drywall. For the past five years, the station has worked with Habitat for Humanity to build low-income housing. Each summer, a bus would collect WCVB employees in the parking lot and ferry them to a work site for two-day projects. WCVB allows its staffers to take two work days a year for community service.

Inspired by its Habitat for Humanity experiences, the station was searching for other building projects. Community Affairs Director Karen Holmes Ward hit on the idea for Extreme Makeover: Boston Edition one night while watching its namesake show. “We want to do as much in the community as possible. It helps separate us from our broadcast and cable competition,” says Holmes Ward, who also hosts a Sunday-morning public-affairs show.

The station quickly mobilized advertisers to help. Sears donated appliances, local furniture company Bernie & Phyl’s kicked in furnishings, and Allegheny Contract Flooring provided carpet and tile. Blue Cross Blue Shield sent a crew of volunteers. JetBlue supplied plane tickets for a trip to Disneyland for the disadvantaged kids and their counselors, and Sovereign Bank provided funding for the home’s library. The station crafted promotional spots recognizing its advertisers’ participation.

To pull off the three-day marathon makeover, WCVB needed all hands on deck. Most station staffers—everyone from star anchor Natalie Jacobson to La Camera—pitched in, as did Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The city helped navigate permits and building codes.

WCVB promoted the project through public-service announcements and reports on its newscast. When the project was complete, the station’s evening newsmagazine Chronicle recapped the experience.

The station is ready to get back to work. This spring, they will redo a home for the Committee To End Elder Homelessness and another for the Boston Living Center hospice.

The really big project comes this summer: WCVB will rehab an entire city block. The station will solicit nominations on its Web site, The winner will receive fresh paint jobs, landscaping and street cleaning. Sears is among the advertisers expected to pitch in again. Beautifying a city block will be a massive undertaking; it also builds a massive amount of goodwill. Says Holmes Ward, “This time, we might need a week.”