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.
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.”
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®.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”