There’s joy in our house now. HGTV’s ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ saves California teacher’s home

Written by: Meagan Lynn – March 1st 2020 11:06am pst

“I remember some nights I would pray on my knees and I would barely have the strength to crawl into bed and just be like, please God, help me fix this. I don’t know how.”  -Emily Holtzclaw

credit: HGTV

It was an accident that no one could have anticipated, and no one deserved less.

“We didn’t see it coming,” said Emily Holtzclaw of that fateful day three years ago. “Like, oh, he’s going to be bedridden for quite a while and he can’t get a wheelchair throughout the house. And oh, he can’t take a shower. He can’t get into the bathroom. Just getting him out the front door, down the steps and into the car was nearly impossible.”

Emily didn’t see it coming when her husband, Jeff Holtzclaw, was struck by a vehicle while riding his motorcycle in 2017. She didn’t see it coming that he would need a leg amputation.

“You don’t know what you’re getting into when your leg is amputated. It’s not something that happens very often to people around you,” she said. “We kind of felt like when you bring a new baby home from the hospital– it was all new territory for us. So we were basically in survival mode.”

“It was really hard on Emily,” her husband added. “She had to pick up the slack for everything because it’s not like I came home from the hospital and I was up and working again.”

For Jeff, not being able to work was a loss of a major part of his life and identity. Jeff hadn’t chosen a normal nine-to-five career. Instead, he’s spent the last 16 years of his life teaching at the Margett Pathway Academy in West Covina, California, where he works to rehabilitate high school students with troubled backgrounds–many of whom were expelled from their last high school.

“Whether it’s community service or they need to take some counseling, whether it’s group counseling and family counseling, individual counseling, anger management, drug counseling, I help them coordinate all that,” he said. “Our school’s like a family. They come into our group and then we try to get them to buy into being this part of a family, and being successful with their plan.”

credit: HGTV

Jeff always wanted to be a social worker, and when his friend suggested he apply as a teacher to the academy, he jumped on the opportunity. As a child, he grew up surrounded by drug and alcohol abuse in his family, and lost his father to suicide.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for kids that are going through the same thing,” Jeff said. “I had a couple of adults in my life that really made a difference and I wanted to be that adult that made a difference for kids that were going through the same thing.”

The script flipped on Jeff’s life in 2017, and now he was the one who needed help. But Jeff’s accident was just the beginning of the adversity he would face.

The old house.
credit: HGTV

“Right before Jeff’s accident, we were about to fix some of the really bad things that had happened to the house,” Emily explained.

“Our house is a money pit. It’s old. We had a water leak, we had some minor things and when he got in his accident, we just went into survival mode and put ourselves on hold.”

The issues with their house continued to pile on: the water leak turned to black mold, the windows wouldn’t open, and power outages required half of the house to run solely on an extension cord. Jeff couldn’t access his bedroom anymore, so he slept on a hospital bed in their den for over a year.

“We realized this is not going to get better,” said Emily, who was working over 60 hours a week and running on less than four hours of sleep a night to take care of her family. Not only did she have to take care of her husband, but their three daughters.

I remember some nights I would pray on my knees and I would barely have the strength to crawl into bed and just be like, please God, help me fix this. I don’t know how.”

Emily Holtzclaw reacts to the transformation of her Covina home during a taping of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” with host Jesse Tyler Ferguson. (Photo courtesy of HGTV)

The answer to Emily’s prayers finally came a year and a half after Jeff’s accident, but Jeff almost missed the call. He had received a direct message from a casting director for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, but didn’t see it for a few weeks. Luckily, it wasn’t too late for them to interview for the show.

“We didn’t think we were going to get it. We just were like, no, there’s people that need it more than us,” Emily said. “I remember interviewing with a couple of the other casting people and just sitting there wanting it so badly, thinking this is the absolute miracle that we need. And I wanted it so bad not for me but for my family. When they came to my door, I was still in shock.”

Neither Jeff or Emily knew they had been selected to be on the show until the cast and hundreds of crew members showed up on their front lawn in October 2019.

I felt the burden come off of me,” Emily explained. “I remember pulling away from the house just thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is going to get fixed,’ and that was the best moment ever.”

Unlike most seasons of Extreme Makeover, their house didn’t require demolition. Instead, they moved ahead with the renovations the Holtzclaws had planned before Jeff’s accident. The family had lived in their house for 12 years, but said that after the renovations, it was unrecognizable.

“We had the worst house in the neighborhood, the ugliest house, and it went to the nicest looking house in the neighborhood!” Jeff said. “It was like we walked into a model home that was fully furnished and we just never left.”

The Holtzclaws now have a house that works for them and accommodates Jeff’s wheelchair. He says having accessibility in his house has restored him.

The new house.
credit: HGTV

“This makes me feel not necessarily like my old life, but my old me,” he said. “I can help put the girls to bed and put their clothes on, and even when I don’t have my [prosthetic] leg on, I can take a shower without needing help to get in there and get out.”

Their new house features spaces for the whole family to enjoy: a craft room for Emily, a music room for the family and an outdoor garden. Emily says the best gift the house has given them is peace.

“The first night we were here, we were sitting there and I heard kids running and screaming and laughing and I was like, listen! There’s joy in our house now,” she said.

What made their house even more special was the people who showed up to help build it, including some of Jeff’s current and former students.

“They ran up and gave me a hug, and it’s just awesome to feel that love and to feel substantiated,” he said. “Like yes, I did make a difference. They did know that I loved them. They did understand that I care about them.”

credit: HGTV

It’s better than winning the lottery to us,” Emily added. “Somebody didn’t just hand us money. They built us a home, and we never could have done that.”

It took 18 months after Jeff’s accident for the Holtzclaws to get the miracle they needed when HGTV called. Emily says it’s their shared faith that got them through.

“Every time that we tried to fix the house, it fell through. And now in hindsight, we understand that that had to happen,” she said. “Those trials had to happen so that this tremendous miracle could happen to us and we just have the faith that no matter what happens, no matter how hard it is, it’s meant to be and there’s a reason for it. And we’re just happy to live that way.”

Jeff says that the hardships he endured over the past two years have strengthened his relationship with his students, and he hopes his journey can inspire them.

“You just have to hang in there. You hold on. Sometimes it’s a long hold on, but anything is possible as long as you really, really want it,” he said. “If we all just understand that everybody’s out there to help each other, it’s just an awesome feeling. You don’t feel helpless, you don’t feel hopeless. You know you can hang on and struggle through.”

If you want to listen to our full interview with Jeff and Emily, checkout AfterBuzz TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Insider podcast. To see the Holtzclaw’s new house, you can tune into Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on HGTV Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, and follow AfterBuzz TV for interviews with the families every week.

About The Author:

Meagan Lynn is a host at AfterBuzz TV and Elon University graduate with a degree in journalism. She loves singing, listening to inspirational podcasts and watching reality TV.

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