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Team Play: Dream On

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This story has all the trappings of a fairy tale. It begins with a promise by a big builder. In the middle, a man of limited means empties his wallet of its last $5 to buy his 9-year-old daughter a sliver of hope to tuck beneath her pillow at night to wish on. And, in the end, the little girl's dream comes true despite the odds, making the builder's travails seem, in retrospect, more than worthwhile.

When brainchilds Cory Tapia, a sales associate with Pulte Homes and Rachel Gerswin, director of marketing and development for the Make-a-Wish Foundation of San Diego, agreed to build and raffle off a playhouse for Make-a-Wish, Spencer Ford, construction area manager of Pulte, knew he needed help from his trade partners, partners Pulte was already seeking concessions from because of the slowing market. He asked for more, and he got it.

DREAM MAKERS: Raffle winner Yesenia Benavidez stands outside of her "Pulte Playa de Playhouse" with (from left to right) Spencer Ford, Pulte construction area manager; Frank Ellis, Pulte superintendent; Erika Strobel, Pulte construction coordinator; Yesenia; Bill Stuckey, Ironworkers Union; and Mike Stevenson, president of San Diego Trade Council. The raffle benefitted the Make-a-Wish Foundation.Photo: Courtesy Pulte Homes

"When the market is slow, this is when you need your trades the most," Ford says. "We have strong relationships with our trades–in good times or bad. The way to get things done is to partner with your trades because it makes your job run smoother. Our trade council is awesome. Not only do they produce outstanding homes, but we work hand-in-hand on community events from the heart."

Several San Diego trades stepped forward to donate money, time, and materials, including, among many, William Perkins Painting, CPC Drywall, and Forshay Electric.

Tricked out to the nines, the 10-foot-by-10-foot beach-themed playhouse includes a plasma TV, a table custom-built from a surfboard, and a second-floor loft. Dubbed the "Pulte Playa de Playhouse" it was sent out on the road for six months, traveling to dog shows, holiday events, and malls.

One of the "massive undertakings" of this project was Dave Norton Grading's task of towing the playhouse all over San Diego, says Mike Stevenson, president of the San Diego Trade Council. "It was really a big deal," he says.

And not without mishap. The house was vandalized several times, requiring Ford, his assistant, Erika Strobel, and several others to spend weekends repainting it.

During the little house's journey, volunteers and Pulte employees sold $5 raffle tickets, raising more than $14,000 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Michael Benavidez and his daughter, Yesenia, were walking through the Horton Plaza mall in San Diego when Yesenia fell in love with the house. Indulging his daughter's fantasy, Benavidez pulled the last $5 out of his wallet for a single raffle ticket. Yesenia later tucked the ticket under her pillow and dreamed about winning while trying to overcome the sadness of her grandfather's recent death.

During the third quarter of the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl in December 2006, the Make-a-Wish Foundation announced Yesenia had won the playhouse. The Iron Workers of Local 229 donated a crane and dropped the playhouse in the Benavidez family's front yard.

Touched by the state of the family's yard, Pulte hired a landscape company to clear shrubs and weeds and level a spot in preparation for the house's arrival. Then, Pulte sent the landscapers back again to create an entryway to the front door and plant flowers.

Yesenia gave her deceased grandfather credit for winning her the playhouse. If so, he had a lot of earthly help. "Pulte has a good crew with fantastic morale and the best builder to work for," Stevenson says .

Ford admitted that "seeing the trades working together was very rewarding for me." And then, after seeing the little girl with her new house, all the work and trouble were suddenly worthwhile.

The Coastal division is moving forward and putting together plans to build more playhouses in the future.

–Stephanie Todd

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Diego, CA.