Couple in tough situation hopes 'Extreme Makeover' can give them their own home

Tyjuana Belanger of Summerville looks at family pictures taken weeks before her sister, Katrina Johnson, was shot to death by her boyfriend during a domestic dispute. Belanger and her husband, Abraham (right), applied to reality show 'Extreme Makeover: Ho

Katy Stech

SUMMERVILLE -- Television producers are sorting through South Carolina's most ramshackle dwellings with plans to turn one down-and-out family's hard luck around.

The ABC reality show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," which profiles the demolition of a substandard house and the construction of a new one for a family facing profound hardship, is coming to South Carolina after the weather cools.

They haven't found a home to transform yet, but they've taken in hundreds of applications from families who tell sorrowful tales.

"The hardest part of our job is that we only get to pick 25 families a year," said senior producer Diane Korman in an e-mail.

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" made its debut in 2003, well before the economic recession amplified the financial hardship that many families are facing. Some of those South Carolina families, including the Belanger family of Summerville, have flooded the show's casting staff with applications.

Abraham Belanger, a youth pastor who works as consultant in the travel industry, and wife Tyjuana Belanger were raising their teenage daughter, Shalomar, as the 31-year-old mother coped with a disease that caused her hip bones to deteriorate.

Then tragedy struck.

Tyjuana's sister, Katrina Johnson, was fatally shot by her boyfriend last year during a dispute that took place in the driveway of their Summerville home. He then shot himself as their two young children sat in the backseat of the car.

The Belangers took in the children, now ages 2 and 5, and moved into a four-bedroom home they're renting on Dovetail Circle. The couple said they applied to the show because they want a place of their own. "I always promised myself I'd do whatever I could to help them," Abraham Belanger said. "This is a house, but it's not ours."

The couple's application to "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" seemed to be going well as show organizers went back and forth asking for clarification and more details. But their application is on hold until they can secure donated land, which has been described to them as a requirement to participate.

Korman said most of the families who are picked to appear on the show own their homes, though a few have had land donated to them.

The show and its energetic host Ty Pennington have already built two homes in South Carolina, both near Myrtle Beach.

In 2007, the show gave a new home to school cafeteria worker Renee Wilson and her four grandchildren, who were living in a cramped mobile home. Organizers said part of the family's previous home was repaired with duct tape.

And earlier this year, the six-member Suggs family got a 3,000-square foot home -- three times the size of their original house. Amanda and Derrick Suggs took in her two siblings after the Department of Social Services threatened to put the children in foster care.