Fresnans Make Makeover Possible

Riojas family’s new home couldn’t have come together without donations from 175 businesses

Article by Robert Rodriguez
The Fresno Bee

When thousands of volunteers rushed to help the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” team build a new home for the Riojas family in Fresno, many in the city’s business community joined in.

About 175 companies, from small family-run operations to major corporations, donated everything from T-shirts to roof trusses. While the total cost of the donations has not been calculated, it will easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Like the huge support from the volunteers, the response from businesses has been overwhelming, said Ryan De Young, vice president of finance for De Young Properties, builders of the Riojas home.

“Once the Web site went up about the project, it took just a few days to get almost everything we needed,” De Young said.

“We were shocked. For every person we had supplying something, we had three backup people that were willing to help. That says a lot about our business community.”

Many of the involved businesses said they didn’t hesitate to donate products, money or labor, despite a weak economy and a decline in revenues.

Sergio Ilic, owner of Heritage Bomanite in Fresno, a specialty concrete company, saw his sales drop by 50% last year compared with the previous year. He said his business, like many others, has been affected by the downturn in the housing market.

But Ilic said he looked beyond that when approached for help. He and his crew of 12 workers are installing the colored and stamped concrete in the front and back of the East Robinson Avenue home.

“All of the guys were really excited about doing this,” Ilic said. “This is about people coming together to help someone in need. And we are doing our part.”

Others, like business owner Olga Martinez, president of Allright Diversified Services, a Fresno-based construction firm, understand what it means to need a helping hand.

Two years ago, Martinez suffered a brain aneurysm, forcing her to be absent from her company for weeks.

A family member, employees, and even a few clients stepped in to help run her multi-million dollar construction company.

“I remember people rallying together for me and helping me rebuild my company,” said Martinez, who is one of the project’s sponsors. “It made me committed to giving back and making a difference in people’s lives, like the Riojas family.”

Mary Ann Riojas and her four teenage children return to the East Robinson Avenue home in west-central Fresno from a Colorado snow trip today. ABC’s crew led by show frontman Ty Pennington and the volunteers will declare “Move that bus!” for them to see their new home.

Fashion Furniture store owner Rod Avedikian also didn’t hesitate to give. And in a big way. Avedikian is supplying furniture for the home.

His crews delivered two truckloads Wednesday.

“For us, it was the right thing to do,” Avedikian said. “There have been so many people fired up about wanting to make this happen.”

Eric Rawn, owner of BCT Consulting in Fresno, had an opportunity to spend several thousand dollars of advertising with the local ABC network affiliate that broadcasts the makeover show, but he said he passed.

Instead, Rawn decided to use roughly the same amount of money he would have spent on advertising to outfit the Riojas family with a full range of computer equipment, including laptops, desktops, personal computers and iMacs.

“Maybe some people may think we are crazy for doing this, but this is a chance for us to do something really unique,” Rawn said. “We don’t anticipate a return on our bottom line, but that is not the point. We are doing something to give this family something they needed, something that could make the difference helping the kids go to college.”

Other efforts to help the family also triggered substantial response. More than $100,000 has been raised to help the Riojas family pay off their existing mortgage, and about 10 bins of canned food collected from people arriving at the construction site have been donated to the Community Food Bank in Fresno.

The De Young family asked that spectators bring a can of food as the price of admission.

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