'Extremely' lovable family tells of TV show, full lives

Larry Varner for the Galva News
Galva Lions Club member Gary Coon (right) stands with Steve and Jean Grys and their children, twins Abby and Bekah, 17, and Jake, 8, after the family shared their experiences of being on the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” TV show. The family, of Pekin, appeared at the Feb. 25 Lions meeting, invited by Coon. Jake is proudly displaying a Lions cap given to him during the evening.

At the Feb. 25 Galva Lions Club meeting, the family of Steve and Jean Grys of Pekin revealed details about their participation in the ABC television show “Extreme Makeover Home Edition.”  Their family received a complete new home on the Jan. 11 show.

Steve, an elementary special education teacher, and his wife Jean were accompanied by three of their family of seven children. Seventeen-year-old twin sisters Abby and Bekah joined eight-year-old Jake.

The parents have been taking in medically needy foster children for many years. They received Jake as an infant and were told that he would not live long. Jake has osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), also known as brittle bone disease. 

“Jake is a kind of a miracle. He’s lived much longer than anyone originally expected,” Steve said. “We knew that he could progress so much farther if he had a house built just for him with his special needs. We found that there was such a lack of funds and a real lack of knowledge of how to help individuals like him. We even had a doctor compile a petition with many names to encourage the show to pick us for the makeover.”

“I think the therapist almost could have been charged with harassment of ABC for all the efforts that were directed on Jake’s behalf to get the makeover going,” Jean added.

Both parents detailed all of the secrecy involved, the incredible speed of the final days of dealing with the show’s designers, the many hours of taping, and amazing level of community volunteer work. 

“ABC pays for nothing on the building of the house itself,” Steve said. “Sponsors, developers, builders, contractors, and volunteers all provide the necessary work and materials. 

“The network does pick up our personal costs for the trip to Disney World and our housing and food. The show could only use about one of every four community volunteers who tried to work. We are very grateful to them all for their efforts and the many fundraisers.”

Jean is active with the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation and is helping connect children with OI with foster and adoptive families. She has volunteered to speak to government officials in Washington, D.C. 

“It was really rough for Jake when we first got him. I slept with him in a recliner for the first four months as he was in constant pain,” Jean said. “We’ve learned so much about properly dealing with IO children.

After a question and answer session, Lion Duane Warner complimented the parents.

“If I had a hat on, I’d take it off to you both,” he said.

“It’s hard to accept praise like that because we both simply believe that we have been put here on earth to foster these medically needy children,” Steve said. “ We’re lucky enough to have found our purpose in life. 

“There’s so much good that has come out of this Makeover show,” Steve added. “We’re not stopping fostering because we now have the opportunity to do it better and more because of the new house.”

For more on this story, see the March 5 Galva News.