Rancho Santa Fe residents Scott Jacobs (right) and his daughter Alexa spend a week living out of their comfort zones, working in a poverty-stricken area of Newark, N.J for “Secret Millionaire,” which airs on ABC June 3. Photo courtesy of Scott Jacobs Studio
Rancho Santa Fe Lead Story

Father and daughter find a million reasons to pay it forward

RANCHO SANTA FE — When this season’s “Secret Millionaire” premiers at 8 p.m. June 3 on ABC, look for Rancho Santa Fe residents Scott Jacobs and his daughter Alexa. 

The two spent a week of their lives undercover, stepping way out of their comfort zones, living and working in a poverty-stricken area of Newark, N.J.

“Our goal for the week was to find people to make a major donation to at the end of the show,” he said.

But, he said, the takeaway message from the show is you don’t have to be a millionaire to help others.

“We were elbow-to-elbow with other people who had nothing, that were doing just as much good that day as we did with our money,” he said. “You don’t have to give away money, just contribute in some way. If you are healthy, give time. Volunteer at a food bank, help clean up a park. Pick up garbage. It makes you feel amazing.”

He is not sure how he was chosen for the show, but he had seen it for the first time and had told several people he would love the opportunity to appear on it.

“I said I would do it in a heartbeat,” he said.

Someone, he does not know who, was listening.

Originally, only Scott Jacobs was to go on the adventure, but the producers thought it would be interesting for him to bring one of his daughters. He said older daughter Olivia was old enough to appreciate how she grew up and realizes not everyone has the same advantages.

They decided that younger daughter Alexa should share the adventure with her dad.

“She broke out crying within the first half hour. There was garbage everywhere, kids playing the streets every other house was boarded up.”

“She said, ‘I can’t believe people live like this,” he said.

Alexa Jacobs acknowledged she was touched.

“I knew it was out there, but I had never been stuck in the middle of it to experience it firsthand. It was shocking and it opened my eyes so much more,” said Alexa Jacobs, who was 19 when the show was being filmed last summer.

“I was immediately scared,” she said. “I was outside my comfort zone. It was completely different from what I am used to. I didn’t now how to act.”

The first part of the show was filmed at the Jacob family home.

“They show my family, where we live and what I do for a living,” he said.

“Then one day they show at up 3 a.m. at the house with a film crew of 30 people. They take credit cards and cell phones. They take us to the airport and we don’t know where we are going.”

They landed in Newark, N.J.

“They usually send each millionaire to an emotional place. I grew up in New Jersey. My parents were alcoholics and my father was abusive. My memories of New Jersey are not great,” he said.

“They put us up in a boarded up old crack house they rented for a week. Alexa and I stayed in that house for a week. We had a table, two chairs, a couch, cots and box fans. There was no circulation, only air movement. We did have bodyguards,” he said.

Their cover for the week was that they were filming a documentary about volunteerism in America, but their secret mission was to find volunteers who make a huge difference in their neighborhoods.

Jacobs and Alexa Jacobs were given $71.03 — roughly what two people on welfare would receive a week for food.

“We spent only $48,” he said. “We had things like mac and cheese, bread, eggs, mayo,

dry cereal, milk and water.”

“At night my dad and I both slept a little restless,” Alexa Jacobs said.

She said her little crack house cot was a lot different from her “comfy queen bed and all my pillows.”

Because of a contract, Scott Jacobs must be careful about what he reveals about the show before it airs, but he was able to talk about two brothers who work to get homeless veterans off the streets. They find them by waking up sleeping homeless wherever they are found, to determine if they are veterans so they can register them, have their teeth and eyes checked and try to get a roof over their heads.

“They fought for our country and now they are sleeping in the street,” Scott Jacobs said. “We went out and found them under bridges or sleeping on a window sill.

When it came to waking sleeping homeless, Alexa Jacobs said she took the lead.

“It was funny. I was the one pushing my dad to go for it,” she said. “The first person starting yelling at us. We said ‘Wow. This is a great start.’” But as the night wore on they began to make friends with the homeless, she said.

“I learned so much. I am not taking anything for granted. I always appreciated it, but now so much more,” she said.

Alexa Jacobs attends college and has two jobs.

“I’m more driven to succeed to be independent and help other people,” she said.

Since she gotten back, she has already volunteered at the food bank and local charities around here, Scott Jacobs said of his daughter.

He said when he and Alexa returned, the whole family went out to breakfast at the Inn and their bill came to $94, almost double what they lived on for a week, which caused them a moment’s pause and to remember the people they had met.

“The show is real. Where we slept, the money I gave away was my money,” he said.

But, he said, the show is not about the millionaire.

“It’s about the people who are doing great things. That is what the show is about. The show is to discover those people who are doing amazing things because it is their passion and it’s the right thing to do. It’s about paying it forward.”

The Jacobs family has lived in Rancho Santa Fe in 1996. Scott Jacobs said he made his money by making smart real estate deals in the 1980s and he is an artist.

Among his biggest clients are Harley Davidson, the Corvette Division of Chevrolet, the automotive Shelby line, and the Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe estates.

“I have been an artist since I was in high school,” he said. “In the 11th grade I was the artist for the school newspaper. Each week I had to think about drawing something.”

In his senior year, at age 17, he took part in the school’s work study program where he would get out of school at noon and work for an art gallery for the rest of the day.

He said he slowly started bringing his artwork to the gallery so others could see it. It caught on and soon he was in the position to own the gallery at age 19. He parlayed that gallery into two others, all three being very popular in the late 1980s.

After a hiatus of several years and at his wife Sharon’s urging, he began painting again.

“Within months Harley Davidson took notice of my work and I was the first artist to be licensed by the company. I became their official artist in 1993,” he said.


Laine June 4, 2012 at 10:26 am

Loved the show last night. It was very touching to see you both out if your element.Scott I hope you continue the close work w/Chris.


Missy June 5, 2012 at 9:50 am

I agree with Laine…please stay in close touch w/ Chris.

Holly June 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm

I loved it when Alexa said “Well what should we do for the rest of the day – wear a smile?” and Dad replied “Yeah, wear a smile all day long.” A smile is worth a million and getting that smile, by giving a smile to someone else, is what it is all about. Wear a smile today!

doug brown June 9, 2012 at 10:48 pm

tonight for the second time i sat and watch the show again. this time my wife and i watched it together. a very tuching and great awareness that your daughter will live time and time again. what a message to those who have so much and then have their eyes opened to what they take for granted? your daughter will never forget scott what you shared with her.thank you for doing the thing you did. may god bless you always.we live in northern california and watch the show’s every week.

Renee Mortimer August 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm

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Rachel Graybill February 22, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Just watched the episode on hulu and wanted to say that I was amazed by Alexa. For a young woman to be willing to leave everything behind and jump in with her whole heart was inspiring

Richie July 6, 2013 at 10:10 am

as someone who used to be a company director and own my own house and land (all be it on a mortgage) I now find myself moving thru a succession of rental properties having lost our jobs and then our home (it was repossessed by the bank) after the global crisis. The stress of being unemployed has resulted in my wife and I separating and me now living apart from my small children. I became very cynical and bitter towards senior CEO types in the City who seemed insulated from the crisis while others ended up on the breadline. Seeing you two out volunteering and seeing a millionaire donating to charity in this way has restored my faith in mankind. God bless you.

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