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'Makeover' reroutes family to Falls

A Delaware family got a surprise visit to Niagara Falls when "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" changed their itinerary because of uncertainty over where Hurricane Irene would land.

The ABC television show sent Dale Dunning and her family to Niagara Falls for five days after producers canceled plans for the family to go to Disney World, tourism officials said Saturday.

Tim Clark, of the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission, confirmed the family's visit.

"Extreme Makeover" star Ty Pennington surprised the family last Monday on the porch of Rehoboth Presbyterian Church in Delaware with news that the show would send them on vacation while rebuilding their home and soup kitchen, Jusst Sooup Ministry.

Dunning, of Lewes, Del., arrived in Niagara Falls Wednesday along with her husband, Ken, and son, Brooks. They spent three days in the region, with trips to the Cave of the Winds and to Old Fort Niagara and a ride on the Maid of the Mist.

ABC crews filmed the family as they toured Niagara Falls State Park and rode the Whirlpool Jet Boat on Friday, said John C. Percy, president and CEO of Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.

The show is scheduled to air as part of a Thanksgiving special Nov. 18.

"We could not afford to spend this kind of advertising dollars on national publicity on a Sunday evening on a major network like ABC," Percy said. "The exposure is invaluable."

Percy said he got a call on Wednesday telling him that the family would arrive that day because of the change of travel plans. He met with them Thursday and learned how with just one crock pot Dunning started a soup kitchen that has grown to feed thousands.

The Dunnings were scheduled to leave Niagara Falls today, and had anticipated seeing the new home unveiled on Monday.

But ABC crews and volunteers working on the construction site shut down the work Friday and Saturday in anticipation of the hurricane, according to the website of a construction company that collaborated on the build.

email: djgee@buffnews.com