Extreme Makeover Builds a Home for the Piestewas

ABC Extreme Makeover Home Edition
 Mark Peterman / Getty Images

On May 22, 2005, the popular reality TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition aired the season finale--a two-hour special episode about the extreme makeover of the Lori Piestewa family home.

Lori Piestewa was the first American woman killed in the Iraqi war. Her supply convoy was ambushed, and she died on March 23, 2003. Her best friend and roommate, Jessica Lynch, became a POW and was later rescued.

Lori Piestewa was a single mother of two young children. She lived in Tuba City, Arizona on the reservation. Lori was a Hopi Indian. After her death, her mother and father committed to raising her two children. They lived from paycheck to paycheck in an older, run-down mobile home. They owned the home, but not the land.

Jessica Lynch and Lori Piestewa had a pact. They agreed that if anything happened to either one of them, that the other would make sure that the family was cared for. Jessica Lynch went a step beyond--she applied to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to fulfill Lori's dream: a home where her entire family could live together and be happy. They accepted her application, declaring this to be the most challenging Extreme Makeover yet. They had one week.

An Extreme Makeover in the Memory of Lori Piestewa

While the Piestewa family was sent off on a paid vacation to DisneyWorld, Ty Pennington and his crew went to work purchasing land and building a home for them. Here are some highlights of the project.

Extreme Makeover acquired 5 acres of land for the home in the Flagstaff, Arizona area where the Piestewa family had hoped to move to offer more opportunities to the children. After the home was built, one side was constructed to have a constant view of the beautiful San Francisco Peaks mountain range. When they started the project, there was no water, electricity, septic or other services to the land.

The home that the volunteers built ended up at about 4,000 square feet with a separate playroom for the kids, and a special room where all of Lori Piestewa's pictures, belongings, and memorials are displayed. The interior was designed with the family's Native American heritage in mind.

The young son's room was designed entirely with a Lego theme; the daughter's room with a princess theme, complete with a closet full of princess clothes and a princess' coach bed. A barn and corral were built for a horse that was given to the family after Lori Piestewa's death.

The home was designed with a totally unique energy system, combining solar power and wind power to reduce their energy costs by about 65%. Shea Homes built the house, and also gave the family $50,000 in cash. Sears provided the appliances for the home, and also donated more than $300,000 worth of clothing to the families on the reservation. They went door to door delivering bags of clothing. Breuner's provided the furniture for the home.

While the Piestewa home was being built, a separate crew built a Veterans Affairs complex for all the Native Americans who served our country, but had nowhere to meet until now. This is a multi-tribal facility, with a large conference room, meeting rooms and many amenities. This side project was completed in only three days. Squaw Peak in Phoenix was renamed Piestewa Peak in Lori's honor after her death. The Extreme Makeover team climbed the popular central Phoenix hiking mountain to place a commemorative plaque at the peak.

There was not a dry eye in our house as we watched this compelling program about Lori Piestewa and her family, her dreams, her best friend, her community, and a bunch of strangers who came together to enrich all their lives. There could not be a more gracious, humble, and deserving family than the Piestewas, who are simple people who loved their daughter, and remain as proud of her today as they were proud of her when she was alive.

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