Meet Miami's 'Secret Millionaire'

August 03, 2012 | by —LIANA LOZADA | Homepage


Michael Lemonis shooting Secret Millionaire in Miami

Camping World and Good Sam chairman and CEO Marcus Lemonis returned to his hometown of Miami to film this Sunday night's episode of Secret Millionaire, the ABC show which features self-made millionaires as undercover community volunteers. Born in Beirut-Lebanon, Lemonis was adopted by an American family as a baby and grew up in South Dade. Today, he lives in a luxurious Chicago abode and sits at the helm of a billion dollar business. We chatted with Lemonis about his experience on the show and what he hopes Miamians will gain from viewing it.

What prompted you to participate in Secret Millionaire?
MARCUS LEMONIS: A number of people had asked me to be a part of Undercover Boss and I elected not to do it for a couple of reasons. I was then approached by the folks at Secret Millionaire and I said, 'Yes, absolutely.' Philanthropy is a big part of my life, and a big part of my company's life.

How did you wind up shooting in Miami?
ML: I did not know where I was going until the morning of. I showed up at the airport and they told me that I was going to go to Miami—and it was literally like cutting white onions because I couldn't stop crying.

What was it like to come home?
ML: I've always tried explaining this to people, but Miami is a very unique city. If you're from there, there's just a certain kind of feeling it has that's different. It's a very tight-knit community. It's a little rougher than I would like it to be, but people look out for each other.

Who did you volunteer with?
ML: Neat Stuff, which provides brand new school uniforms to unprivileged families, NVEEE, which is a grassroots organization promoting anti-bullying, and New Journeys Transition Home, which helps young women transition out of the foster care system. As a person who survived being a potential orphan, that really struck a chord with me.  

What was the biggest take-away from the experience?
ML: I learned that I-95 is more of a dividing line than I wish it was. I learned that the amount of homeless in downtown Miami is absolutely shocking. The people of Miami are as warm and loving as I had imagined them to be, but I didn't realize the extent of it. I really saw the heart and the soul of the city. I saw a wide variety of ages, races, and religions involved in these organizations. And they had no common thread other than the fact that they had this belief in what was going on in the city.

What changes would you like to see take place in Miami?
ML: I went down to Overtown one morning and it was not part of the production schedule. I ended up breaking down with the amount of homelessness I saw. At one point, I looked up and saw the Government Center in downtown. I looked over at several of the homeless men I was with and said, 'Do you know the mayor of Dade County can see you from his office? What do you think he is thinking right now?' I want the people of Miami to see this and say, ‘This cannot happen in our town and not on our watch.’

Secret Millionaire airs Sundays at 8 PM on ABC

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