Montclairian helps Ukrainian refugees in TV show’s 150th episode
As George Oliphant followed the plight of Ukrainians fleeing to Poland after the Russian invasion of their homeland earlier this year, he felt compelled to do something.
“I just felt helpless,” said Oliphant, who had employed a Polish au pair and who had traveled to Poland. “I told my wife, ‘I’ve got to go to Ukraine. I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to help these people.’”
His wife, Zoe, quickly reminded him that he had four children and a home in Montclair. “You’re not going to Ukraine,” she said.
But a short time later, Zoe Oliphant, who works in real estate, heard about a Montclair family that was preparing to welcome four Ukrainian relatives into their home. That was something she knew her husband could help with.
As executive producer and host of the home improvement TV program “George to the Rescue,” George Oliphant has provided home renovations for many families. He understood that adding four people to a household would require major adjustments to the home.
So he reached out to the family to offer assistance. The results can be seen in the Daytime Emmy-winning show’s 150th episode, which begins airing on WNBC and Peacock on Saturday, Oct. 1.
Since 2010, “George to the Rescue” has brought together volunteer contractors and designers to take on challenging home improvement projects for people who are facing personal challenges in their lives. The show began as a segment on the LXTV program “Open House” in 2009.
The segments were popular, and Oliphant was given the opportunity to do two special episodes of “Open House” devoted to rescues. Those episodes served as the pilots, and “George to the Rescue” got a six-episode run.
From the beginning, Oliphant wanted to do more than just fix things. His approach: “Let's do meaningful projects for people who need them, for people who would never ask for these things. Let's find those civil servants in our community, the teachers, the nurses, the fire and police officers, the military personnel, those people who every day are out there serving us, but in the nature of their job would never ask for help.”
Oliphant is quick to give credit to his television production team and the contractors and designers who volunteer for the rescues.
“I'm just a conduit,” he said. “The way I like to refer to myself is the one who puts the people together. But it takes all these people, their connections and obviously their skills to pull off these rescues.”
Sometimes they find unexpected problems, but they go ahead and fix them. In some instances, he said, the team has gone back to the home after the reveal to take care of some matters. In one case, a basement flooded after it was redone by the show. So the team returned to waterproof the exterior of the house, even though that would not be included in the episode. “We didn't want to leave the family in a situation where they couldn’t use the new space,” Oliphant said.
“We have a have a very high bar, and we’ve stuck to that,” he said. “You go back to any rescue we've done over the last 13 years — yes, there's going to be wear and tear because it is a house — but there’s nothing glaring or out of whack. We take a lot of pride in everything we do. It’s like a mantra I have: Yes, it’s a TV show, but it somebody’s house. When we leave, they live here.”
Feelings about home and Montclair run deep for Oliphant. His great-grandfather moved to Montclair in 1912 with his then 7-year-old daughter, Oliphant’s grandmother. She lived her entire life in Montclair and met Oliphant’s grandfather, a Scotsman living in New York who had come to Montclair to play squash.
“It was love at first sight,” Oliphant said. Eighty years ago the couple bought a house on Ingleside Road, the same house where Oliphant and his wife are raising their family.
Although Oliphant did not grow up in Montclair — he was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado — his father encouraged him to move to the New York area after he graduated from the University of Colorado with a film and theater major.
“My dad had told me to ‘Go East’ and to find my fame and fortune and in the bright lights of Broadway,” he said.
His father had an additional motive. Oliphant’s grandmother had died, and his father couldn’t bear to sell the house. So he wanted his son to do some maintenance and repair work on it. “It was a much bigger endeavor than I was ready for at 24 years old,” he said.
For a while Oliphant lived in New York, but in 2009 he moved to the family home. And between episodes of his TV show he continues with home improvement projects there.
The 150th episode is especially meaningful for Oliphant. “We are humbled to have been able to do what we love — change lives for the better — for more than 150 episodes,” he said. “This season highlights many extraordinary stories of resilience and hope.
“I’m especially proud of the work we did to help a local family welcome their displaced Ukrainian relatives into their home. We’re always motivated and ready to roll up our sleeves to uplift the lives of those in our community, but this project felt even more significant.”