Stolar Learns Life Lessons Through Extreme Makeover: Home Ed. Project

West Essex Tribune By: Michelle Bent

Brian Stolar of Livingston admits that had never really watched Extreme Makover: Home Edition. So when he received a call on April 6 from a representative of the show asking if his company would volunteer to build a brand new technologically advanced home in one week, Stolar said, "We'll think about it." The representative informed Stolar that the project would begin on May 6, so he wouldn't have that much time to mull it over.
After viewing some DVDs of the show, Stolar was touched by the reactions of deserving families as they first set eyes on their dramatically rebuilt homes. He thought that the project would be a challenge, but would also serve as a motivating morale boost for his company. In the process, Stolar learned and confirmed some valuable life lessons.
Stolar has always been a proponent of the idea that a person can do anything that they put their mind to. He describes the Extreme MakeČover: Home Edition project as "the greatest manifestation of that philosophy in my life." In this case, Stolar put his mind to building a state of the art home to provide a better quality life for the Llanes family of Bergenfield, who came to the United States in 1997 from the Philippines in hopes of finding better medical care.
Vincent, the family's patriarch is blind due to a hereditary disease. His mother, Isabel, is also blind and his two daughters, Guenivir and Carrie, are losing their sight. His wife, Maria, who is battling thyroid cancer, contracted German measles when pregnant with son, Zeb, who lost his ability to hear as a result of his mother's illness. The disabilities experienced by Llanes family members are impacted by the fact that their home is a dark, 50 year old, 1,312 square foot split level on a noisy street.
"The family is amazing," Stolar notes. He found inspiration in the happiness and determination he saw within their family unit, despite the fact that they are challenged daily because of their disabilities.
Pinnacle took technology to the limit to construct what Stolar refers to a "Z-home", one that uses the latest high tech options and gadgets to improve the lives of those who live there.
On a basic improvement level, the new home features sliding doors, better lighting and sound proof insulation. The home's cutting-edge technology includes smoke sensors that speak, iCommunicator software that translates spoken words into sign language in real time, and Home Automated Living software that allows the user to program the home's lighting, heating and security systems through a microphone, telephone, television or on-line. The home will also be equipped with innovative and useful gadgets, such as the Colorino, which scans and says the color of clothing to assist the blind when getting dressed.
In addition to realizing the power of determination, Stolar also learned that "people inherently want to give." By the end of the project, Stolar had people thanking him for asking them to donate their time and money. He recalls one volunteer who arrived on site at 2 a.m. She had traveled from Connecticut to offer her assistance as a sort of pay-back because so many people had helped her when her husband became a quadriplegic.
In an effort to give back to the communities that his company builds in, Stolar established the Pinnacle Foundation in 1993. Led by chairman and former New Jersey Governor, Thomas H. Kean, the Pinnacle Foundation has contributed to local communities by building community spaces such as senior citizens centers and reading rooms for children in local libraries.
Stolar feared the Llanes family would suffer from "lottery-itis", the onset of extraordinary problems that result from extraordinary unanticipated gain. He decided to set up a fund through the Pinnacle Foundation to provide assistance to the family for such expenses as utility bills, mortgage payments and college tuitions with the hopes of warding off an unfortunate situation. Commerce Bank has agreed to manage the fund in perpetuity at no charge.
Stolar, who is on the Board of the Rabbinical College of America and is a co-founder of Etz Chaim Synagogue of Livingston, discovered that giving can bring people together. The construction site was unlike any other. Various types of workers labored side by side and often assisted each other in their jobs due to time constraints. Stolar witnessed masons help plumbers, and vice versa, as well as crew members pausing to take photos of one another.
Pinnacle's team shocked the cast and crew of Extreme Makover-Home Edition by finished almost a full 24 hours ahead of schedule. The moral boost was more than Stolar expected, pushing everyone along at hyperČspeed in anticipation of handing over a priceless gift to a unique and deserving family.
The best lesson learned in completing the project is that by helping others you help yourself. According to Stolar, the project did not just benefit the Llanes family. It also benefited the 1000 contractors and 15 voČlunČteers who will now, after having the opportunity to see how satisfying it feels, go out and do more good in the world.
This new episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition will air on ABC this summer.