The lives of Ralph and Cookie Martinez and their five children were far from the lights of Hollywood last year when they were kicked out of their apartment with a sick baby and nowhere to go.
The California natives had come to Utah for a promising job and a hopeful future. Instead, two years after they arrived, they were teetering on the edge of homelessness.They were saved by the Interfaith Hospitality Network, which offered them lodging with area congregations. Now, they've been saved again, this time by the Habitat for Humanity program, a television series and their own hard work.
The Martinez family was chosen as the recipients of a home at 761 S. Goshen St. (1040 West). Today, the shell of their home was used for a shooting of an episode of the CBS series, "Promised Land."
The show's stars, which include Gerald McRaney, Wendy Phillips, Celeste Holm and Austin O'Brien, have also pledged to help the home rise from tresses, walls and roof to completion. CBS has donated $65,000 to the project.
"We wanted to do Habitat, the question was how to write a story around it," said Bill Schwartz, the show's supervising producer. "Habitat is the best organization around. The end result is a family gets this house."
In the episode, Richard Thomas' character, Joe Greene, has been released from prison. At the prompting of his brother, played by McRaney, he applies for a Habitat for Humanity home.
McRaney, the real-life son of a Mississippi carpenter, said nothing takes him back to his childhood like the sound of hammers and saws. "My father was a builder. He's 86 and still gets out and swings a hammer."
McRaney said Habitat appeals to him because people help themselves. "Everyone has to participate and put in their time. They may not have the money; they have the time."
This summer, Ralph, Cookie, their three daughters and two sons, ages 13, 10, 5, 4, and 1 will move from their North Salt Lake rental and officially come home.
The family's youngest son, Ralph, was born with kidney failure. He takes medication three times a day, though the 16-month-old will eventually need a transplant, his dad says.
The excitement at getting a house has almost matched that of the television experience, Ralph Martinez says.
Ralph Martinez has been there this week, helping put up the walls. The family had already donated 200 hours of time on other people's houses waiting for their own application to be approved. They'd even worked on Goshen Street, not knowing the homes they were helping build would eventually house their neighbors.
They will give 300 more hours of service on their own and other houses, unfinished hours because they thought they'd be waiting another year to get a house.
"My wife was real shocked and I couldn't believe it," Martinez says. "We had worked at that site. We didn't think one of those houses would be ours."
The family likes the neighborhood and it's close to Cookie's job at a film processing company. Ralph is working construction - he also played a construction worker as an extra on this week's filming. And the children are split on whether the TV gig is all it's cracked up to be.
"I wish I could be one of the actors. It's fun," Ralph says. "The kids are excited about it. We told them they were going to be on TV and the older kids were shy about it. The little ones - they want to be on TV real bad."
So after Gerald McRaney and his co-stars are gone from Goshen Street, the Martinez family will have a home and a new start. But the crews and the cameras, this little bit of another world descending on their own, this they won't soon forget, Ralph Martinez says.
"It's going to be a house to remember."