Let's Try Helping When Nobody's Watching

Weidert Group Staff
Posted by Weidert Group Staff on August 20, 2010

All the Fox Valley has been buzzing this week about the Extreme Makeover Home Edition project underway in Neenah. And there's a lot to be excited about: Rhex and Claire Arboleda and their children fit the mold of good citizens and community members struggling to live the American dream in a truly deficient dwelling. The producers knew what they're doing when they picked the family – Rhex was a 2006 local Teacher of the Year, and both Rhex and Claire are very involved as school and church volunteers.

I have nothing against the Home Makeover concept or franchise. It's tough to knock a corporation that has found a way to be the facilitator of an extravagant act of generosity and kindness that also sells advertising and turns a profit, too. However, all the hype around Extreme Makeover Home Edition and people tripping over themselves to get a piece of the limelight is a bit disheartening. Mostly because as a community we have more people in need than ever before, and the selfless people working to address those needs have never been more challenged.

If you talked to leaders at any of the dozens of non-profit agencies serving the Fox Valley, they would tell you the same story: the recession has contributed to an explosion in clients and their needs, while making it even more difficult to attract the donations and volunteer support they all need to fulfill their missions.

Something else that's bothered me for a while with the Extreme Makeover show is the sheer lavishness bestowed on the chosen family. As the new McMansion is revealed, complete with top-of-the-line furnishings, fixtures, accessories, toys and even brand new vehicles, I'm always left wondering how many families might have been helped if ABC were to do Moderate Makeovers instead of Extreme.

How about instead of 4,000 square feet of luxury that looks out of place in a modest neighborhood, the family got 2,200 of nice, and the Fox Valley Warming Shelter got a capital donation toward their building campaign? Instead of Ford donating his and hers pickups, the family got one and St Joseph's Food Pantry got the other.  Instead of paying off the Arboleda's mortgage, they got a donation to the kids' college fund and the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley got a donation to their operating budget.

I do feel blessed to be part of a community that is so open to helping during this event.  The thousands of volunteers doing labor and the builder donating time, money and resources is a wonderful testament to how giving our community is. Lexington Homes is gambling that the PR and goodwill they receive will more than offset actual expenses incurred, and that's more than fair.  And the sub-contractors, many of them very small businesses, and local restaurants donating food and labor, all deserve credit for stepping up.

What's disappointing is all the people who use the event as an opportunity to get their faces, voices, and words into the spotlight. As we watch them squeeze and push their way onto TV, newspapers and social media without a hammer in their hand or hard hat on their head – for no reason other than the possibility of profiting from the event or to satisfy their own ego. I'm just a little embarrassed that we're not acting with more dignity.

One of the things I love most about the Fox Valley is how proud we all are of the quality of life we have here, and the quiet, personal responsibility we take to maintain that quality. My challenge to all those pushing and shoving to get their 15 seconds of personal fame under the guise of helping the Arbodela's: next week, when nobody's watching, volunteer your time or resources to help one of the dozens of local agencies that quietly and humbly work so hard to make this a place we're all proud to call home. Who knows – you might discover you get a rush you didn't get from the bright lights of the media.   

Here are just a few places that could use your help:


Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley

Executive Director, Debra Cronmiller, debracronmiller@esfv.org, 920-882-0346.

The Salvation Army of the Fox Cities
Majors Jose & Annette Tamayo, 920-734-3324

Development Director, Karen Ziemke, 920-734-9461 

If you want to learn more about the two dozen or so public and private agencies focused on housing issues, go to the Fox Cities Housing Coalition website. Or you can visit the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley website to learn about other ways you could help make a difference.

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