It was back in February when Alex Stephenson and his wife Heather heard the good news.
Their home in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, the one they'd bought as a fixer-upper, had undergone a dramatic makeover, thanks to the efforts of their neighbors, family and friends.
The couple appeared on the The DeGeneres Show in mid-February, when they received the surprise of a lifetime: Ellen, along with the "Cousins," selected their home to undergo a massive upgrade.
"It was a pretty good surprise," Alex Stephenson said. "They flew us out to the show, right to the last minute, we pretty much figured. The way they filmed the show, they filmed our segment as the very last segment."
The HGTV show features cousins Anthony and John, who work with DeGeneres to create "a life-changing surprise for a family who have dedicated themselves to our country despite suffering personal setbacks," according to the show's website. While the news came in February, the entire project
will be aired on the next episode "Cousins Undercover" this Wednesday, July 9, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.
A Medfield native, Alex is also a 1991 graduate of Medfield High School. He now lives in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, where he works as an instructor at the National Intelligence University. A Purple Heart recipient and Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Special Forces, he said he and Heather bought their current home and bought it as a fixer-upper in an effort to move to the Washington D.C. area. Around the same time, Heather, who also served in the military, was involved in a motorcycle accident that left her severely injured and needing treatment. Through benefits, they were able to cover 90 percent of the medical costs, but they needed to pay 10 percent out of pocket.
"That wiped out our savings," Alex said. "And our nest egg for fixing up the house went away."
That's when Alex's sister-in-law wrote in to the Ellen Show, which had been seeking nominations for military families in the Washington, D.C. area who needed a home makeover. Show representatives responded, and the surprise snowballed from there.
"She had done it last summer," Stephenson said. "They contacted us in mid-November. So it went on for months and months. It was fairly hair-raising. Finally they came and had an architect designer come out, and they contacted our neighbors about what was going to happen."
Alex and Heather, however, had no idea until they were finally invited to DeGeneres's show. There, they viewed the initial stages of the project, which was completed by the time they returned home nearly a week later. The crews worked on the house inside and out, revamping the kitchen, adding a new master bedroom.
"It was like night and day, walking into that house," Alex said. "The floor plan was completely different. We loved it. The outside has grown on us quite a bit. It was so different. It fits in with the neighborhood pretty well. It was a huge production. It was pretty heartwarming. About 150 people came out on the front lawn waiting for us."
More than grateful for their new home, the couple only has one regret.
"The one regret we do have is now all of our neighbors have these great stories about helping on our house," Alex said. "We missed all the cool stories about everybody coming together. That's the only part we wish we had been around to be apart of."