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East County Wednesday, Sep. 30, 2009 8 years ago

Bashaw teacher wins backyard makeover

by: Pam McTeer

MANATEE COUNTY — Everyone in Heather Patoray’s neighborhood knows which house is hers.

A few scraggly weeds poke through barren sand that surrounds her home from every side. It’s all that’s left after she and her husband, Joe, ripped out the forest of weeds that surrounded the property when they bought it in June as a foreclosure.

With so much yard, the task may seem daunting, but the Patorays couldn’t be more excited to improve their property — especially now.

The couple recently won the $16,000 Ultimate Backyard Makeover Contest.

Starting Oct. 7, 17 businesses will descend upon their backyard and transform it into a paradise, complete with a pond, pathways, lighting, one-of-a-kind artwork, a hydroponic garden and other special features in four days or less.

The Patorays plan to help with the landscaping efforts after work, but the final day is left entirely up to the professionals. The Patorays will be sent to a hotel so they cannot see the yard until it is finished.

“It’s got to be a surprise,” said David Burns, contest organizer and owner of the Backyard Getaway Store, the contest’s host.

Heather and Joe Patoray said they don’t mind the makeover only covers 1,200 square feet — about one-third their backyard. They plan to use the extra space for games such as corn hole and badminton after they plant sod.

The makeover they won far exceeds any expectations they had for the property after they purchased it, they said.

“The yard was atrocious,” Joe Patoray said. “It was all overgrown (weeds). There was no grass at all.”
The newlyweds eagerly plunged into their new challenge, ripping out all the weeds until nothing remained but the sand underneath.

In the meantime, Heather Patoray’s mother informed them of the Ultimate Backyard Makeover Contest. Heather and Joe didn’t think they’d have a chance at winning, but they did know, without a doubt, their yard was ugly and in desperate need of tender loving care.

They sent in a photo and a description of their plight and continued working on their eyesore.

“We planted some bushes and trees and got it to a clean slate,” Joe Pandoray said.

“We weren’t going to sit around for two or three months to see if we won,” added Heather Patoray, a second-grade teacher at Bashaw Elementary School. “We had the summer off. It was depressing to sit here and see nothing (out back).”

It wasn’t long before the couple learned it was one of the top 10 contenders from more than 60 entries.
Because the winner would be chosen by popular vote, the Patorays knew what they had to do next. Their strategy was simple: contact everyone they knew and ask them to cast votes daily.

“I said, ‘We can do this; we know a lot of people,’” Joe Patoray said. “We basically high-fived and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We tapped into everybody we knew.”

They called friends and family, sent text messages and e-mailed daily.

Even neighbors — who had been thrilled to see the young couple improving the property — joined in the fun. One even made his employees vote, Heather Patoray said.

They checked the contest Web site frequently to make sure competitors weren’t gaining too much ground, even taking time to counts votes when they felt their lead was threatened.

And when the contest was over, the Patorays had won with more than half of the 5,000 votes cast. In fact, they won by more than 1,000 votes.

“It’s cool we worked for it,” Joe Patoray said. “Every contestant deserved a backyard. It was who wanted to make that backyard their own?”

The Patorays can’t wait to see their new backyard and are grateful to their friends, family and supporters who took the time to vote.

Once the yard is finished and they make a few other home improvements, the Patorays hope to have their supporters over to celebrate the victory.

And every time they walk through their home and look out the window, the couple will have a living example of how their hard work, the support of friends and family and the generosity of local businesses helped make their dreams come true.

“Every time we look at it, it will be a reminder,” Heather Patoray said. “We can’t wait.”

For contest details and information about contributing businesses, visit

Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].

Contributing Businesses
Backyard Getaway
Your Green Home Resource
All Phases Welding
Premier Video Productions,,
Ryland’s Rustics
Historic Sheds
NDC Carpentry
Eco Essentials
Tampa Bay Landscape Lighting
Paving Crew
FL Native Plant Nursery
Michelle Donner Photography
The Hive Creations 
Anna Mariki Tiki
Shades Sails
The Gulf Coast Plumeria Society
Click Web Creations
Best Western Midtown Sarasota


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