First two families for veterans’ homes chosen

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Host, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, right, greets local volunteers that will be participating in a home build for two Antelope Valley veteran families. The two families will be featured on the reboot of HGTV's Extreme Makeover Home Edition to air in early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

Homes4Families, in cooperation with the reboot of HGTV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, proved it possible to build a residential duplex in six days when they constructed homes for two veteran families in Palmdale, at a site where a total of 56 homes will eventually stand.

The construction dates ran from Aug. 24 through Aug. 30, working around the clock in six-hour shifts at the build site on vacant land donated by the city of Palmdale and designated as the Palmdale Veteran Enriched Neighborhood® at Division Street, south of Avenue R.

A “Door Knock” took place on Day One, when the Ernesto Olivares Jr. family and the Mario Merlos family were announced as the first people selected to live at the site. Each of the 1,360-square-foot homes, in a side-by-side duplex separated by a common wall, consists of a living room, kitchen, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-car garage.

Veterans Olivares and Merlos have been best friends since they met in the third grade, forming a friendship that blossomed over the years. They both enlisted in the Marines, Merlos immediately after graduating high school and Olivares about one year later.

Host, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, right, introduces HGTV designers from left, Darren Keefe, Carrie Locklyn and Breegan Jane to local volunteers who will participating in the reboot of HGTV’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The show will have an episode featuring two Antelope Valley veteran families that will receive new homes. The show will air on the network in early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

While in the military, from their home-base at Camp Pendleton, they were deployed twice to Afghanistan at different locations, but near enough to visit each other.

As for as their new homes, they inspected the finished product during a segment of Extreme Makeover called the “Reveal” on Day Six, Aug. 30.

An Extreme Makeover bus delivered the families to the location at about 6:30 p.m. that Friday. Program host Jesse Tyler Ferguson jumped off the bus first. Then both families descended — Olivares with wife Amy, son David, 7, and daughter Elizabeth, 1, and Merlos with wife Stephanie, and daughters Leah, 5, and Camila, 3.

“This has been my dream since I was a kid, to have a house,” Merlos, an electrical apprentice, said.

Olivares, an aviation maintenance manager, thanked everyone “for being there for us.”

Parents, Ernesto and Nedavia Olivares with friend, Anissa Engel, right, react with emotion as they watch an introductory video featuring their son, Ernesto Jr. and his family on the new rebooted version of HGTV’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The younger Olivares are one of two Antelope Valley veteran families that will have a home built as a result of the partnership of Homes4Families and the HGTV network show. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

By everyone, he referred to the Homes4Families staff; the TV crew; professional construction subcontractors; and extended family members and friends along with hundreds of volunteers who contributed funds and hours of elbow grease to complete the project.

Olivares’ and Merlos’ extended family members, including their parents and others in the crowd of spectators, held up signs that read “Welcome” near their homes on Day Six.

The first glimpse of their homes revealed a front porch furnished with a swing for two and two rocking chairs, as well as small shrubs in the lawn area. Then the families entered their respective homes for a walkthrough to check out the furnishings — all new and created specifically for them.

When asked what he thought of the furnishings, Olivares, a 2008 graduate of Chatsworth High School said, “My wife and I love it. My kids definitely love the house. They’re very excited to live in it.” He didn’t know exactly when that would happen. “It’s unclear when we get to move in,” he said.

Terrie Zayas, an executive assistant in the administrative offices at the city of Palmdale, was among the volunteers that came out on Day One.

“I have been involved in the project since the beginning,” Zayas said, reflecting back to the time when city officials first discussed the Palmdale Veteran Enriched Neighborhood®.

HGTV network staff and designers lead a parade of volunteers down the streets of Lancaster as they prepare to surprise the Merlos family with the news of being selected to be featured on the network’s reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition and of receiving a brand new home. The Merlos family are one of two young Antelope Valley veteran families that will be featured in an episode, airing sometime in early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

“I come from a family of veterans. My grandfather was a World War II veteran. He’s still alive,” she said of Elmer Humphry, 93, a California native who now resides in Oregon. Zayas said she volunteered for the project “to give back to our veterans who have sacrificed so much for us. It’s an honor to be a part of this.”

Lancaster resident Ricard Monge, a contractor, also attended the project on Day One.

“My friends were helping with the news crew. They said, ‘Get out here.’ It’s awesome. You couldn’t ask for a better cause.”

Monge said veterans “need to be awarded with something. They fought for our country. Veterans are true heroes.”

Jennie Johnson, a first-grade teacher at Joshua Elementary School, began Day One by handing out T-shirts to other volunteers. When she finished, she planned to work at the build site for the 6 p.m. to midnight shift.

“The community that we serve here is very near and dear to my heart,” Johnson said. “Coming from a family of veterans, I feel a pull to help out in any way I can.” Her stepfather, an uncle and a cousin are all veterans. Both her grandfathers, now deceased, served in World War II. Her son, Caleb Gwin, 17, will soon enlist in the Air Force to be an engineer.

Earl Stroud, a retired fire captain turned fire safety adviser, was on hand to ensure safety measures were in place and in case there was a need for an emergency shut off of power sources like generators. He had served in the U.S. Army as a helicopter mechanic and worked in aerospace before joining the fire department.

Local volunteers join HGTV’s staff and designers as they shout out a surprise morning greeting to the Merlos family, informing them they have been selected to be featured on the network’s reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The Merlos are one of two Antelope Valley veteran families that will be featured in an episode of the HGTV show to air early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

Barbara Hofbauer, wife of Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer, attended the event on Day One. She signed up to work on building a children’s play area.

“They’re working on a playground tomorrow for the kids,” she said of the schedule for Aug. 25, Day Two of the build. “I want to be there to help with that. It’s important to make the kids feel welcome as well.” She is a devoted and loving grandmother. “A grandmother knows kids need some place to play. They need to be outside.”

Lancaster resident Steven Crook and wife Pat showed up that first day. Crook, a manufacturing engineer, volunteers as a swim coach and tennis coach for Antelope Valley Special Olympics. The Crooks have been involved with the Special Olympics since 2004.

“I’m a firm believer that no matter who you are, you need to help your community,” Pat Crook said. “I can say I’ve had a privileged life. I believe people need to give back.”

That first day, the Crooks headed to a warehouse on Sierra Highway to build furniture for the homes.

“I built two dressers and 14 chairs,” Steven Crook said on Aug. 30, the day of the “Reveal.” On Day Two, the Crooks joined Barbara Hofbauer in working on playground equipment.

Mario Merlos, right, races out of his house with wife Stephanie and daughters Camila, 3 and Leah, 5, as they react to the surprise announcement that they have been selected by the network, HGTV to appear on the reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The Merlos were one of two Antelope Valley veteran families that will be featured and given a new home on an episode to air early 2020. The secret announcement was kept by their friends, the Olivares family who were also chosen for the episode. Ernesto Olivares Jr. and Mario Merlos were childhood friends who ended up serving in the military together and now will have homes next to each other in a veteran planned community in Palmdale. The effort was coordinated through the partnership of Homes4Families and HGTV network. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

“I installed an outer rim to hold a plastic partition,” Steven Crook said. “Then I assembled a slide and did cement work.”

Regarding the progress he saw on the homes that second day of the build, Crook said, “The walls were up on Sunday morning, but the roof wasn’t finished, and the exterior siding wasn’t up.”

Quartz Hill resident Kevin Sanders served in the Marines from 1976–1980.

“I was on Operation Eagle Claw, the rescue for the hostages in Iran.” He was referring to the Iranian Hostage Crisis, where hostages were held captive for 444 days beginning in 1979. “I was part of that mission. I was deployed twice. Then I spent nearly six years in Europe and the Middle East as a civilian, working with foreign militaries.”

Sanders spent all week working at the build site. “I built walls, drove equipment, moved supplies. I helped bring in the tile. Licensed contractors installed the tile. I volunteer with Homes4Families and Vets4Veterans.”

Bud Davis, a Palmdale Building & Safety Division official, said, “I volunteered to be on the nighttime crew. I did all the building inspections throughout the night. Because they had no administrative support during the day, I can make administrative decisions on my own.”

Ernesto Olivares Jr., center, is greeted by HGTV designer, Breegan Jane as local volunteers cheer on the Olivares and Merlos families during an announcement that the two Antelope Valley veteran families will be featured on the network’s reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The families will receive homes next to each other in a master-planned veterans community in Palmdale. The episode will air early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

Davis ensured that the project met the minimum Building & Safety requirements.

“Barb and I have been out here all the time — almost every day,” said Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer. “I pulled a couple of all-nighters this week.” He worked “mostly on carpentry. I worked with the craftsmen to build an entertainment center in the living room.”

As far as his wife, the mayor said, “She’s been out here as much or more than I have.

“This was an opportunity to not just welcome the veterans home, but to welcome the whole family to their home,” the mayor said.

“We were there on Wednesday,” said Palmdale Water District board Vice President Kathy MacLaren, in reference to herself; board assistant secretary Robert Alvarado; PWD General Manager Dennis LaMoreaux; and other agency staffers. “We were invited to tour the site and the playground.”

Members of the Olivares and Merlos families are greeted by HGTV’s host, designers and local volunteers during an announcement that the two Antelope Valley veteran families have been chosen to be featured on the network’s reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The two veterans, Mario Merlos and Ernesto Olivares Jr. were childhood friends who ended up serving in the military together and now their families will live next to each other in new homes built in a master planned veterans community in Palmdale. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

PWD has the role of connecting the homes to the public water supply system on the city’s east side.

“We were very flexible because the TV crew had to keep changing the schedule,” MacLaren said. “Dennis made sure we could accommodate everything they needed to be able to complete the playground and the two houses. The water district was instrumental in hooking up water lines,” she noted.

Ernesto Olivares Sr. and his wife Nedavia had been at the build site several times. He described home ownership for his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren as “a dream.”

MacLaren said a positive aspect of the project, from the Antelope Valley’s perspective, is the cooperation among public agencies — PWD, the city of Palmdale, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Palmdale School District.

“The main thing,” MacLaren said, “is we all worked together on this.”
 

Members of the Olivares and Merlos families are introduced to to Brailey Franco, General site/builder with Homes4Families, fourth from right, during an announcement that the two Antelope Valley veteran families have been chosen to be featured on the HGTV network’s reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The two Marine veterans, Mario Merlos and Ernesto Olivares Jr. were childhood friends who ended up serving in the military together and now their families will live next to each other in new homes built in a master planned veterans community in Palmdale. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Members of the Olivares and Merlos families celebrate during an announcement that the two Antelope Valley veteran families have been chosen to be featured on HGTV networks’ reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The two veterans, Mario Merlos and Ernesto Olivares Jr. were childhood friends who ended up serving in the military together and now their families will live next to each other in new homes built in a master planned veterans community in Palmdale. Pictured; back row standing are Amy Olivares holding daughter Elizabeth, 1, Ernesto Olivares, Stephanie and Mario Merlos. Front, standing are David Olivares, 7, Leah Merlos, 5, and Camila Merlos, 3. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Bridgett Mills, center, Senior Director Urban Planning/Homes4 Families welcomes volunteers that will be participating with her organization in a joint project with the network, HGTV’s show, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, where they will provide new homes for two Antelope Valley veteran families. Standing with Mills from left are designers, Carrie Locklyn, Breegan Jane, host, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Homes4Family site builder, Brailey Franco. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Local volunteers check in with the Merlos and Olivares families via video as they prepare to build a community playground that the children can enjoy in their new veteran planned community in Palmdale. The two Antelope Valley veteran families were chosen by Homes4Families and HGTV to be featured in an episode of the network’s newly rebooted series, Extreme Makeover Home Edition. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Three local veterans welcome, through video chat, the Merlos and Olivares families to the neighborhood, they will all be sharing in a master planned veterans community in Palmdale. From left, Juan Bran, Carl Holmes and Robert Nolde showed up at the build site for HGTV’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition to help build the neighborhood childrens playground. The two Antelope Valley veteran families featured,will be the first to have homes built at the site complements of Homes4Families and the HGTV show. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Veterans from left, Steve Thompson and Juan Bran work on a children’s playground that will be shared by the neighbor in a master planned veteran’s community in Palmdale. Local volunteers rallied together to help work on the playground and two homes being built for two Antelope Valley veteran families being featured on the network HGTV’s reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Local volunteers work together to build a neighborhood playground in a master planned veterans community in Palmdale. The build was a cooperative effort between Homes4Families, the charitable organization, kaBoom and the HGTV network show, Extreme Makeover Home Edition. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Local volunteers, Heidi Visser, left, and Eric Steinhauer with Homes4Families work on a children’s playground in the master planned veterans community being developed in Palmdale. The build was part of the network HGTV’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition where they are building homes for two Antelope Valley veteran families being featured in an episode on the show. The episode is expected to air early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
HGTV star, Ty Pennington, right, works with local volunteer, Jennifer Governale, on a children’s playground in the master planned veterans community being developed in Palmdale. The build was part of the network HGTV’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition where they are building homes for two Antelope Valley veteran families being featured in an episode on the show. The episode is expected to air early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Volunteer, Mike Brzezinski, left, works with HGTV designers Ty Pennington and Breegan Jane as they suspend a swing on the children’s playground being built for the veteran community, the Merlos and Olivares families will live in. The two veteran families were chosen to be featured and have homes built as one of the episodes of the network’s newly rebooted series, Extreme Makeover Home Edition. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Local volunteers frame two homes at a build site for the network, HGTV’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The build features two Antelope Valley veteran’s families in one of the show’s episodes, who will receive the homes in a master planned veterans community in Palmdale. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Local volunteers transport a dog house as they put finishing touches on the Merlos and Olivares families’ new homes in Palmdale. The two Antelope Valley veterans families are receiving new homes through Homes4Families that focuses on veteran enriched neighborhoods and are being featured in the reboot of the network HGTV’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition to be aired early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
A finished garage in the new Olivares family home features a conversion into a music room. The Olivares and the Merlos families are being featured in the network HGTV’s reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition as they receive their new homes through the organization, Homes4Families, that focuses on veteran enriched neighborhoods. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Local volunteers and well-wishers turn out for support as new homes in Palmdale are revealed to two Antelope Valley veteran families. The Merlos and Olivares families received the homes from Homes4Families, an organization that focuses on veteran enriched neighborhoods. The homes and families are being featured in the network HGTV’s reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition to be aired early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Antelope Valley veteran families, the Olivares and Merlos’s, chant with supporters to “move that bus,” as they prepare to see their new homes in the Homes4Families veteran enriched neighborhood in Palmdale. The two families are being featured in the network, HGTV’s reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition to be aired early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Antelope Valley veteran families, the Olivares and Merlos’ react to seeing their new homes for the first time in the new veteran enriched Palmdale neighborhood built by Homes4Families. The families and their journey are being featured in the television network HGTV’s reboot of the show Extreme Makeover Home Edition, airing in early 2020. Pictured from left, are Amy and Ernesto Olivares, with son, David, 7 and Stephanie and Mario Merlos with daughters, Camila, 3 and Leah, 5. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
Brailey Franco, general site superintendent with Homes4Families hands over the house keys to the Merlos and Olivares families upon completion of their new homes in a veteran enriched neighborhood in Palmdale. The Antelope Valley veteran families are being featured in the television network HGTV’s reboot of Extreme Makeover Home Edition in partnership with Homes4Families that focuses building neighborhoods for veterans. Pictured left in the presentation is Bridgett Mills, Senior Director Urban Planning with Homes4Families.The episode will air in early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

 
The Merlos and Olivares families enter their newly-built homes for the first time. The homes are in a veteran enriched neighborhood in Palmdale. The homes were built by the veteran focused organization, Homes4Families, and will be featured in the television network HGTV’s reboot of the show, Extreme Makeover Home Edition. The episode will air in early 2020. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)