Home makeover benefits philanthropic family

Before Nathan Montgomery left his engineering job, he was on pace to make six figures.

Montgomery left the corporate world five years ago and formed the nonprofit Salt & Light, a ministry that seeks to meet the physical and spiritual needs of poor people in Champaign County. The organization runs solely on donations and feeds an average of 250 families a week. Montgomery, who was born and raised in Champaign, helps distribute the food. There are nearly 23,000 people in Champaign County who live in poverty, according to the 2007 Report on Illinois Poverty.

Salt & Light also gives free clothes, furniture and household goods to people in need.

“When you’re passionate about something, you believe in it, the idea of sacrifice doesn’t really come in,” Montgomery said. “You just see it as necessary to do what you do.”

Nathan and his wife, Jenny, a teacher’s aide who works with special-needs kids, have four children: Ashton, 13; Benjamin, 9; Addison, 5; and Lillian, 4.

The family devotes most of its time to others, running a food pantry through Salt & Light. As a result of their busy schedules and their modest-paying jobs, they have had trouble caring for their home in Philo, Ill., just south of Urbana. The hunter green property is 100 years old and has a crumbling roof, torn shingles and chipped windowsills.

Several months ago, the Montgomery family found out that “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” the ABC hit that rebuilds homes for families in need, was looking to shoot in central Illinois. Ty Pennington, the show’s host, awoke the family with a megaphone Tuesday morning to let them know their application had been accepted.

“I’m not sure what point it really sinks in,” Montgomery said. “The going from seeing Ty on your television to in our front yard is a pretty big disconnect for most of us.”

“I think my heart stopped,” Jenny said.

Text messages from friends didn’t stop pouring in Tuesday, said Ashton, the 13-year-old.

Housing troubles became overwhelming for the family, and there was a possibility that moving was the only option. The opportunities presented by the show “are limitless,” Nathan Montgomery said.

“Just the weight that’s lifted when you hear the megaphone,” he added. “To actually have a home that is a refuge, a place for us to go and rest it will mean the world.”

This opportunity could also mean a lot for Salt & Light, which could benefit from national attention.

The commitment from Brady Homes, the construction company in charge, and the estimated 2,500 volunteers has really touched the family, Nathan Montgomery said.

“I can’t describe to you just the feeling to know that there are that many people out there (who care),” he added.

Workers for Brady Homes spent three weeks meeting with subcontractors, suppliers, vendors and business associates to garner workers and tools for building the house, which is done completely for free. The construction company sought out volunteers to handle registration, food donation and the blood drive being held during the construction. People who are not able to volunteer on site (the sign-up has been closed) can donate to the food bank run by the family or send money that will be given to the family.

Most of the work is done before demolition starts, said Ed Brady, president of Brady Homes.

“It’s so exciting to have the story of the Montgomerys and what they do,” Brady said. “It’s really been heartwarming to see everybody open their hearts and their pocket books to help this family out.”