Upcoming 'Extreme Makeover' home recipient sparking controversy
By Christopher Rocchio, 07/05/2007
ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Editionis sparking controversy in Honolulu, where local media outlets have discovered that the recent Hawaiian recipients of the reality show's generosity don't appear to be as needy as the show's producers presented them to be.
Theresa "Momi" Akana saw her family receive a new home and her nonprofit organization receive a new community center thanks to Home Edition'srecent trip to Hawaii, however she and her husband apparently make enough in annual salaries that they probably could have funded the project themselves.
Akana founded Keiki O Ka 'Aina Family Preschool Inc. in 1996 and serves as its executive director, having received $97,018 in salary and an additional $5,931 in benefit and expenses during the fiscal year ending in September 2005, according to the organization's most recent tax filing, The Honolulu Advertiserreported Monday. In addition, Akana -- whose husband Ben Akana is also believed to earn an additional low six-figure salary due to his senior vice president position a local bank -- also reportedly received $22,000 in annual rent from Keiki O Ka 'Aina for the use of the top floor of her old home.
However despite the fact that the family appears to have an annual household income of over $200,000, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition presented the local public with a very different picture when it arrived in Hawaii to build a new 3,500 square-foot home for the Akanas and their four children as well as a 4,500 square-foot community center for Keiki O Ka 'Aina.
"Momi and her three children attempted to make their own improvements to their home, they never had the money or the expertise to complete anything properly, so the house is a series of unfinished construction projects," the show stated in a June 6 news release intended to publicize the show's activities, according to The Advertiser. "As a nonprofit, there is no money to fix the damage done to Momi's home or to fix the structures that now house Keiki O Ka 'Aina."
But although a justification of the family's "neediness" certainly seemed to one of the news release's primary goals, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's production company,the non-profit organization, and the local home builder that oversaw the project disagree the idea that need determined the the Akanas' selection.
"This show is based on the decade of service that Momi has done for our community," Keiki O Ka 'Aina spokeswoman Kanoe Naone told The Advertiser about the project. "I'm positive that this show is not based on need."
Denise Cramsey, executive producer for Lock & Key Productions, Home Edition's creator, told The Advertiser the show's legal department completed "extensive background checks" on the Akanas, adding the family's income was just one of many factors considered in the selection process to be featured on the show. She told The Advertiser other criteria included the candidate's need for a new home; the "desperation of their plight;" and the amount of service they do for the community.
"I think Momi certainly fits the bill," Cramsey told The Advertiser.
Brookfield Homes -- the local home builder that oversaw the project -- apparently agrees, describing their goal in being involved with the project as wanting to "help make a dream come true" by constructing a home for "a deserving family" as well as lending their resources to build the community center.
"This is exactly what we achieved by donating our time, effort and resources," said Brookfield Homes in a news release, according to The Advertiser. "We are most proud to have been a part of saying thank you to the Akana family for its great service to Hawaii's people."
Keiki O Ka 'Aina operates more than 40 traveling preschools and specializes in native Hawaiian cultural programs, according to The Advertiser, which added the organization serves roughly 1,000 youth a year; has assisted more than 9,000 families during its 10 years of existence; and has also been recognized for its service to the community with numerous awards.
While Extreme Makeover: Home Edition had originally planned to renovate the Akana's existing five-bedroom home, which The Advertiser reported was damaged by flooding in 2004, the show's producers ultimately decided time constraints and logistical problems didn't make the project feasible.
Instead, ABC opted to construct the new home and community center on a three-acre lot Keiki O Ka 'Aina purchased last December for $2.7 million through the use of a grant, according to the Hawaiian news website iLind.net, which added state funds covered roughly 75% of the purchase price while the nonprofit organization was able to secure a mortgage from First Hawaiian Bank -- the bank Akana's husband reportedly works at -- to account for the balance.
Naone told The Advertiser that the Akanas are leasing the house from the organization, adding the lease agreement was organized by Home Edition's staff and not the family.
Despite the local media controversy that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's Hawaiian trip -- which is scheduled to serve as the show's fifth-season premiere and air on September 23 -- has generated, many of the 3,000 local individual volunteers who actually worked the project appear unconcerned about the disclosure of the Akana family's income.
"[Momi] is doing it for a good cause," Lisa Ishikawa, who provided food and water at the construction site, told The Advertiser. "She's making good money, but she uses it for other causes, not only herself."
"[From] just meeting the family and from what other community members and neighbors have said, they seem like a good choice," Michelle Kanehe, who helped clean debris as well as the house before its unveiling, told The Advertiser. "I was part of the project because I enjoyed the show and because it will help the community."