I punched my code and got the first of a half dozen voice messages:
“This is Doreen Silva,” came the voice on the second message, “thought you ought to know we’re going to be selling the house.”
Did I hear that correctly, I thought, “Selling?” I replayed the message. There was no question what she said.
Doreen and Ken Silva, and scores of people who helped them, made Warwick proud when their house at 106 Yucatan Drive was selected for the television series ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” more than three years ago.
The story was of giving. Giving on the part of Doreen and Ken who had fostered numerous children and, in addition to their two biological children, had adopted three more. A bigger house meant they would be able to foster and adopt more children. Since then, they have adopted one more and three are in pre-adoptive placement.
It was also a story of community giving – “outpouring” is a better word. The city, businesses, churches, non-profits and individuals pooled resources. City crews leveled the cottage that contained lead paint and would have been a nightmare to expand. In a week, while the Silva family was treated to a vacation at Disney World, their dream house was built. Rooms were designed around the special likes of each of the children; there is a double car garage large enough for Ken to work on his two race cars – Friday nights at the Seekonk Speedway is a summer tradition – and the backyard was transformed into an elaborate playground, complete with tree house.
On Friday, DJ and Realtor Chris Whitten listed the house for $409,900.
“I love this house,” Doreen said Saturday sitting at a dining room table that looked like it should be in the chow hall of an Army base. The family is big and promises to get bigger sooner. The Silvas continue to foster children in addition to their own kids, and if everything goes to plan, they will soon be a family of 11.
The house could easily accommodate more and life would have gone on. It’s comfortable. There’s a routine. It’s secure. Ken works for the city’s Department of Public Works. Doreen home schools the children. Their church, as well as their friends and family, are here. Doreen grew up in Warwick and Ken moved here when he was in high school.
Now, if their dream comes true, all of that will change. Already there is a certain amount of uncertainty to what they’re doing and there promises to be a lot more if the house sells.
The dream – it’s really a calling – is to help families so that their children don’t end up in foster care. To do it means pulling up roots here and heading north.
Doreen is hesitant to name the location, as acquisition of the property, which she plans to name Salamander Ranch, is contingent upon sale of the house here. Let’s just say it’s out of state and more than three hours drive away.
It’s a big property and probably was a campground at one time. It is on a dirt road with maybe no more than 12 other homes. The house has five bedrooms. There’s an in-law apartment big enough for their son, Kenny, who will soon be 18. There’s a lake. There’s a barn and they could have horses and other animals. There’s even a baseball diamond.
Doreen said she knew as soon as she stepped on the property it was what she had been dreaming of.
“It was a vision of everything we could do. I could see the people I could help, but we never could have afforded it.”
There was no way they could buy the place, but on faith they submitted an offer for half what the owner was asking. Now they have an agreement to purchase it.
She has written the articles of incorporation for a non-profit organization that would operate the ranch and enable them to apply for supporting grants. She has researched state laws and talked to that state’s department of children and family services. She has checked out that state’s regulations regarding home schooling and found it is more rigorous than Rhode Island, but she’s ready to do that.
“Hopefully we’ll fill a void in foster care,” Doreen says. The organization would provide educational programs and supportive services. Families could visit the ranch where they would be exposed to a loving and caring environment. There would be a petting zoo with goats and bunnies for the children. It would be a day camp for families in crisis.
“This project is more work than I have done in my life,” says Doreen.
Ken, who remained silent most of the interview, injected, “When you get a calling from the Lord, you can’t fight it.”
For him, assuming the house sells and they close on the other property, it means finding another job. His plan is to stay on with the city until he finds something, which would mean staying with family here and commuting for the weekends to the ranch. He would be selling his race car and giving up that passion for the time being.
What about the people who made the Extreme Makeover a reality, who had embraced them, even though in many cases they had never met them? Is this an abandonment of all they did?
Doreen and Ken think not.
“There is a lot of love,” Doreen says of what went into transforming their house, and, in the process, opening greater opportunities. She says all that generosity and love is part of her family. It is something she can never forget.
“I can take all of that to this place. Build something that will help the community.”
While she has not thought of it in those terms, she agrees that what lies ahead is an investment. The family is investing the good will that people have bestowed upon them; with that they will be able to help countless more.
You might think of it as the “extreme return” and unquestionably more rewarding than the stock market.