Camping World/Good Sam CEO Marcus Lemonis worked hard and made his millions. But life wasn’t complete. The Miami native, who was adopted from Beirut as a baby, felt the need to give back. So the Chicago resident signed up for ABC’s Secret Millionaire, a show where wealthy individuals go undercover to poor neighborhoods, shed their possessions (no credit cards!), live in poverty and visit with various volunteers.
The people they encounter believe they are doing a documentary, hence the cameras. At the end of the show, the good Samaritans reveal their identities and hand out checks to various causes. For Lemonis, his trip to Miami, which happened last August, was just as he thought it would be: incredibly inspiring. The Christopher Columbus High School graduate lived for a week in an old, roach-infested trailer in Liberty City, drove in a rickety car and walked the streets. His existence on the episode, which aired at 8 p.m. Sunday, was Spartan at best. Though Lemonis was handed a bit of cash by producers at the start of the journey, he ended up giving it away. How did he manage? “I bartered,’’ he said.
“I would say to someone, ‘If I work for you could I get food?’ I would drink out of a hose. I did what I had to do.” The less-than-fancy conditions didn’t bother him. “Being from Miami, I’m very comfortable wherever I go,’’ he said. “It’s not that I frequent those areas, but I know it well enough that it’s not a big deal.” What did upset the RV king were the amount of vagrants he encountered. “My idea is to call out the politicians to clean up the streets, to be honest with you.”
Lemonis ended up working with three local charities: NVEEE, preventing teen suicide and bullying; Neat Stuff, a store that gives away new clothes to kids; and New Journeys Transitional Home, a haven for foster girls who have “aged out” of the system. All three organizations were on the receiving end of big, life-altering checks. Lemonis still stays in touch with many of those he met and helped and threw a Barton G catered viewing party for some 600 guests Sunday night at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables. There was a mix of Lebanese and Cuban food, with sliced pork, meat pastries, cheeses and sausages. Guests were given party favors of candy tied in a bag with a pic of Lemonis as a baby. Katherine Fernandez Rundle, State Attorney for Dade County, introduced Lemonis and hailed the great citizen.
“My contributions didn’t stop when the show stopped,’’ he says. “I continue to give back in meaningful ways.”