The Llanes family of Bergenfield is getting a makeover, and the whole community is involved.
A crew from ABC’s "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" tore down the Llanes’ home last Friday, and by Monday, the shell of their new home had already risen from the rubble. Though the family, who were on vacation during the construction, got to miss the hectic nature of the rebuilding project, they also missed being able to watch members of the community come out in force to support the effort.
Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, actress Marlee Matlin, Rabbi Moshe Grossbaum, and Brian Stolar in front of the new house on Monday.
The Friendship Circle, a Chabad-run volunteer network that provides social services, set up a tent at the New Bridge Road construction site on Sunday.
Although the Llanes are not Jewish, Chabad provided a Jewish presence during the construction, as well as kosher food for the hundreds of volunteers who are working around the clock to get the Llanes’ moved in on time.
Shmuel Birnbaum of Pinnacle, left, and Marc Harrison, president of Silicon East, enjoy lunch Monday in Chabad’s tent. photos by Josh Lipowsky
The family needed their help. Of the Llanes’ three children, two daughters are blind and the son is deaf. The father and grandmother are blind and the mother has cancer. Friendship Circle volunteers offer social services for people with disabilities, but according to ABC representatives, the Llanes children don’t want special treatment.
"The Llanes kids have adjusted to their disabilities in such an inspiring way that they would be wonderful mentors for other children with special needs. We plan to invite them to join the Friendship Circle to continue to pay it forward," said Diane Korman, coordinating producer of "Extreme Makeover."
The rebuild project will outfit the Llane’s new home with some $100,000 worth of equipment designed to make it more accessible for the family’s special needs, including strobe-light equipped smoke detectors.
Brian Stolar, president and CEO of the Chatham-based developer Pinnacle, which is overseeing the project, said he wanted to make sure there was a Jewish presence on the site.
"When we first approached Brian Stolar to take on the challenge of building a house in a week, he had a major concern. He doesn’t work on the Sabbath," Korman said. "But after some consideration, he decided that helping a deserving family was the ultimate tzedakah."
Stolar called Rabbi Moshe Grossbaum, director of the Friendship Circle in Teaneck, who in turn brought in his brother, Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, the director of the Friendship Circle in Livingston.
"We wanted to bring the Friendship Circle into this because there’s a family with three children with both hearing and sight disabilities. It turns out, ironically, that these children don’t think they need any help. So we’re kind of turning it around and may ask the kids if they want to volunteer to help other kids who aren’t able to adjust as well," Stolar said.
On Monday, Chabad provided four large pizzas, trays of Israeli salad, and falafel that had been partly donated by E.J.’s on Queen Anne Road. Sunday night, it served a selection of food donated by Dougie’s Barbecue and Grill, also on Queen Anne. Chabad is also providing tefillin and information about Chabad services to the volunteers and spectators who have been drawn to the project.
"This is unique because Brian Stolar called us in," said Zalman Grossbaum. "He said he wanted Jewish services here for Jewish volunteers."
The Pinnacle Foundation will also set up the Llanes Family Foundation, which will collect money for other families with hearing and sight disabilities. The Pinnacle Foundation will manage the Llane foundation as long as the family wants it to.
"There’s a correlation between what they’re trying to do with ‘Extreme Makeover’ and what we try to do on a daily basis," said Zalman Grossbaum. "They’re making a difference in a family’s life and we can relate to that on a personal level. The kids involved [in Friendship Circle] every day make that same difference."
The "Extreme Makeover" episode featuring the Llane project will air later this summer. No date has yet been set.