October 14, 2010
Text and photos by Ted Regencia
NEENAH, Wis. — In a time of economic recession and real estate market collapse, owning a brand new house might be a fantasy for many families.
But thanks to a popular reality show, a Filipino family from Neenah, Wisconsin is now living their American dream.
The Arboleda family won ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition, which helps build homes for deserving families all over the U.S. The family was one of the five finalists from the Badger State.
“We are overwhelmed,” said Rhex Arboleda, a 36-year old teacher and father of five. “This house is just so amazing. It’s a wonderful experience, and we are so happy because the kids really needed a house like this.”
Rhex’s wife Claire said she still could not believe that they are now living in a new house, which is about eight times bigger than their old two-bedroom residence, which was almost 70 years old.
It was over a month ago when the well-known Extreme Makeover bus showed up in Neenah, about two hours north of Milwaukee.
“I was the one who first saw the bus, and I told him, ‘Rhex it’s us,'” Claire said. “I can’t believe it. I was in tears.”
(Family photo credit Mark Hawkins Photography 2010)
Rhex said their 11-year old daughter, CJ “wanted it so bad.” “She’s been praying. That was actually part of her birthday wish,” he added.
After only a week of construction, led by celebrity host Ty Penington, a gleaming 4,200 square feet home was built.
About, 6,000 volunteers from all over the Fox Valley area of Wisconsin pitched in, and worked 24 hours to finish the house on time.
What’s more, it’s essentially for free. The community of 25,000 people came together to pay off the mortgage of the house.
The Neenah police department also donated a grand piano, as a gesture to Rhex who has been serving the community as a music teacher at three grade schools. He also serves as a music director in his local church.
“I honestly believe it’s better than winning a lottery,” Rhex said. “To have the house and have people, thousands of volunteers be part of it.”
During the construction, the family of seven, including four sons Joshua, Calix, Cullen and JR, went on a Disney World trip, where eldest child and only daughter, CJ celebrated her birthday.
Rhex, who is from Quezon City, and Claire, a native of Malate, Manila met when they were college students at Philippine Normal University. They moved to the U.S. nine years ago, when Rhex pursued further education at the University of Wisconsin.
For the past seven years, Rhex has been teaching music at the Twin Cities Catholic Education System (TCCES).
He also leads a program called Move to the Grove, which encourages young students to be physically active to prevent obesity. To promote the program, the show gave him a custom-built truck complete with sound system, television sets and sports equipment.
Not only was he given a truck, the family was also gifted with a van by Bergstrom Ford of Neenah.
Kathy Kellermann, a fellow teacher at TCCES, said Rhex is “well-loved” by the children at school. Kellermann, who helped in the nomination process, said the Arboleda family “deserved to win.”
“It’s a blessing, but it’s a big adjustment too,” Rhex said.
The Arboleda family will be featured on the ABC show this coming Sunday, October 17 at 7 p.m. The house will be opened to the public the weekend of Oct. 23 and 24.