What makes a house a home contest winners received a $250,000 check.

Contest winners pay it forward with winnings

For the winners of Wells Fargo’s “What Makes a Home” contest, winning meant more than just being able to pay down their mortgage. All of them used some of their winnings to give back to their communities.

January 13, 2015

For the winners of Wells Fargo Mortgage’s “What Makes a Home Contest,” winning meant more than receiving the money ($250,000 each), buying a home, or paying down their mortgage. It meant having an opportunity to help others and make a difference in their communities.

One winner gave money to a scholarship fund and a pet rescue group; another to a nonprofit that builds houses for the poor. Yet another plans to publish a book series to assist families of special-needs children with the problems they face.

Contestants from across the U.S. competed for the cash prizes by using words and images to convey the true meaning of what makes a place feel like a home.

Greg Gwizdz, head of retail sales for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, says the “What Makes a Home Contest” initiative showcased the best in people.

“The contest reconfirmed that people have a strong emotional connection to home,” he says. “The winners’ stories all demonstrated the power that a home has in impacting lives by strengthening families. We were especially excited to see that all three winners chose to pay some of their winnings forward to help others.”

Wells Fargo’s Tim J. McDonald and Carolyn Mountain present a check to Oregon prize winners Lisa and Rocky Stenzel.
Contest winners Melissa and Will Meeks with their son David. In addition to paying off their mortgage, the Meeks family made a donation to a local housing nonprofit.
Wells Fargo’s Arlene Maloney and Terry Berding present a check to the Meeks family.
Iowa newlyweds Leslie Poprik and B.J. Capelli Jr. with their dog Berklee.
Wells Fargo’s Tim J. McDonald (left) and Carolyn Mountain present a check to Colorado prize winner Lisa Stenzel, her husband Rocky, and their family.
In addition to paying down and refinancing their mortgage, the Meeks family made a donation to a local housing nonprofit.
Wells Fargo’s Arlene Maloney (left) and Terry Berding present a check to the Meeks family.
Newlyweds Leslie Poprik (left) and B.J. Capelli Jr. with their dog Berklee. For the contest, the couple created a video based on a song they wrote.

Music students and pets

“As soon as we found out we had won, we knew right away that we wanted to pay it forward,” says B.J. Capelli, a music teacher and professional drummer in the Philadelphia area. He and his wife, Leslie Poprik, a piano teacher, set up a music scholarship fund in the name of a beloved mentor and donated to a pet rescue in honor of their pooch Berklee.

In her winning entry, Leslie submitted a video she and B.J. created based on a song they wrote just for the contest: “That’s What Makes a Place Feel Like Home.” The fast-paced, humorous tune features a backyard cookout and other homey scenes — along with a starring role for Berklee, their tambourine-playing Boston terrier.

Last fall, the couple returned from honeymooning in Aruba to their then-rented house near Philadelphia, certain that nothing could top that dream vacation. Tucked away in their backed-up mail, however, was an envelope with a letter inside. Stunned, they discovered Leslie had won the contest!

“It was completely surreal,” says Leslie, who had come up with the idea to enter the contest. “We looked at each other and said, ‘What? Seriously?’”

Once the initial shock subsided, they made plans for their winnings. They proceeded to buy the house they had been renting. Next, they donated money to establish a music scholarship fund and support a pet rescue group — causes close to their hearts.

Special needs children

Winning gave Lisa Stenzel and husband Rocky of Timnath, Colorado, a chance to get out of debt, pay medical bills, and continue to take care of their three children, including 2-year-old Ty, who has Down syndrome. Lisa says it also may open the door for her to publish a series of children’s books inspired by Ty.

“I wanted him to have the same opportunities as my daughters, so I wrote stories for him — one for each letter of the alphabet,” she says. “In these stories, he has the same friends and adventures and imaginations as any other little boy. I hope they will help other families, too.”

Housing for poor

Contest winner David Meeks, a high school teacher in Macon, Georgia, and his wife, Melissa, a textbook editor, also had plans to do good with their winnings. They significantly paid down one of their two mortgages with Wells Fargo and made a $25,000 donation to the Fuller Center for Housing, which provides hardship repairs for low-income families in the Macon area.

David’s winning entry featured a photo of their 4-year-old son Will, showing his delight as he saw his own bedroom for the first time. “Home is where everything has its place — especially you,” part of the entry says.

Sara Harrison contributed to this story.

Contributors: Sara Harrison
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