His Alure team had just redone a house in Queens for the hit television show, when he agreed to assist another New York family in need. He knew Alure had the perfect crew of dedicated professionals to make a huge difference in the Arena family’s life in a very small window of time.
“It’s not a job, it’s a choice!” Sal Ferro, Alure’s president and CEO explained as the transformation was about to begin. “We’re going to build this house, we’re going to change their lives, and let’s do it with a heck of a lot of love.”
And so in just seven days Jim and Gina Arena of Somers, a village in northern Westchester County, got a brand new home. For too long they’d all been cramped together—mom, dad and six daughters sharing one bathroom.
The parents had been planning to fix up their house themselves and had even gotten the required permits to do the work, but then tragedy struck. Their youngest son James—everyone called him “Jimmy Boy”—was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was only 4. For the next two years Jim and Gina spent all they had saved up for repairs on finding cures for their son, but it was to no avail. Jimmy Boy passed away shortly after his sixth birthday.
According to the show, the Arena family was “nominated by the whole town.” Their family and friends had rallied to their aid, including neighbors and several volunteer fire departments—in part because Jim was, and still is, a volunteer firefighter himself.
Their ranch house, built in the 1950s, had fallen into disrepair. The couple had bought it in 1988, a year after they’d gotten married. By the time Alure and the television crew arrived at their address, there were holes everywhere, joists were bare, the original wiring was exposed, and the siding was falling off.
Adding to the urgency, Gina was expecting a baby due in three months. And so, Day One of the “Extreme Makeover” began at about 7:56 a.m. on April 19, 2006, when the family, who’d been told they might be among the finalists, heard the show’s enthusiastic team leader, Ty Pennington, standing out in front of their house with a bullhorn greeting them loudly with the news they’d been desperately hoping for.
And so, still in shock, the Arenas were soon packed off to Disney World in a white limousine where they’d spend their week as their home was being torn down and transformed. Everyone got into the demolition act. Even Gina’s dad, Ray Andretta, ran a backhoe that ripped the roof apart.
“My dad said that on the second day they cleaned out the house,” Gina recalled recently. “By 5 o’clock the next morning, my father said the whole house was framed!”
But the job wasn’t smooth sailing by any means.
“They had a rough time,” Gina says. “They got slammed with rain. It poured buckets.”
She says big fans were set up in the basement to dry it out. But, in one week, working nonstop with the show’s designers, Alure Home Improvements had transformed a dilapidated one-story ranch into a stunning two-story house.
“I was just in awe,” says Gina, describing the first time she and her family saw the final results. “I couldn’t believe it!”
She was in Florida while the show’s designers were working with Alure to redo her kitchen and give it a Tuscany-inspired look, but she wasn’t concerned.
“I knew, based on the shows that Alure had already been part of, that their work was high-end,” she says. “Everything worked! It was really, really, very impressive!”
Now she’s got a “large” kitchen sink, a “massive” refrigerator-freezer, and an island in the center of the kitchen with cabinets all the way around it.
“I love my kitchen!” says Gina with conviction.
The upstairs bedroom for the girls—who were big on softball—was designed to be large enough so they could even have a catch. According to Ed Sanders, one of the show’s designers, it was “the biggest space we’ve ever done.”
The upstairs bathroom came complete with six sinks, two showers and a tub. Next to the parents’ master bedroom was a nursery with a crib for the new baby.
But the biggest surprise for the Arena family was a creation the designers called “the Miracle of Life Room,” a place “for all the memories of Jimmy-Boy,” which touchingly displayed posters and photographs of their deceased son.
“My husband and I spend more time in it than anybody else, just relaxing in there,” says Gina. “It’s a very calm place to be in.”
As viewers of the program know well, emotions run high on the worksite when a lucky family returns to see what’s been done in their absence. Tears of joy flow spontaneously and profusely.
That was certainly the case at the Arena home. Even Sal Ferro was caught on camera wiping his eyes after Gina Arena had given him a big hug of gratitude on Day Seven.
“I just cried like a little baby!” he said later on camera, adding that “all the doubts and all the concerns of the week” were streaming down his cheeks.
Yet one member of the Arena family still has some regrets. It’s Michael, the youngest, who is now 8 years old.
“I have to say that he is very jealous that he was not in the show!” Gina says with a laugh. “He actually asked Jim and me if Alure could come back and build a playroom in the basement!”
Eight years later, she has nothing but admiration for the job Alure did.
“Sal and every single one of his employees bent over backwards to help!” she says.
Despite the intense time pressure, they left her house in immaculate shape; no detail was too small to be overlooked.
“They are such a fine-tuned organization!” says Gina.
What’s not to like?