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Article updated: 3/25/2013 9:22 AM

HGTV host, global activist make Fenton's Wall of Fame

By Katlyn Smith

An HGTV television personality known for her on-camera enthusiasm and a soccer coach who has traveled from Thailand to Chile to bring playgrounds to children in need have earned places on Fenton High School's Wall of Fame.

Monica Pedersen and Nick Falco both used their induction ceremonies -- reserved for alumni once every two years -- to provide some career advice to students at the Bensenville school.

Before Pedersen became an interior designer on HGTV shows like "Designed to Sell" and "Bang for Your Buck," the Wood Dale native was a star basketball player at Fenton. Her discipline on the court translated to her college years, where she juggled classes and modeling to pay her tuition.

"Fenton gave me everything I needed to succeed," said Pedersen, who graduated from the school in 1988.

After about 15 years of modeling and traveling, she decided to audition for a Sears commercial selling tools.

"I got the job because I knew how to use a drill that my father had given me for my 18th birthday," Pedersen told students during ceremonies on Friday. "Don't be afraid to learn from your parents or help your parents work on the house."

That commercial led to a few more television spots that caught the eye of HGTV producers, who called asking if she could decorate. Interior design was always her "secret passion" growing up with two parents who were "rehabbers," but Pedersen said she stressed to producers that all of her designs were on a budget.

That call led to "Designed to Sell" and she later wrote her own design book, "Make It Beautiful: Designs and Ideas for Entertaining at Home."

As the host of HGTV's "Dream Home" and "Green Home" giveaways, Pederson lets the winners of the prize have just as much of the spotlight.

Her speech to students contained plenty of humor. When her microphone accidentally bumped her chest she told the teens, "Forgive me, you'd think I've never done this before."

But she also revealed that her twin brother, Michael, died while she was a junior at Fenton.

"For those of you students who've had losses in high school … it hurts so much, and I know that," Pedersen said. "But you're going to be OK …. it's not going to affect the rest of your life. You can still have a full, successful life."

Falco already is a daily fixture at the school as the junior varsity coach for both the boys and girls soccer teams. The Crystal Lake man combines his love of coaching and teaching with his day job as vice president of development for Kids Around The World, a nonprofit organization with offices in Rockford that provides playgrounds for children in countries ravaged by war, poverty and natural disaster.

One image from his travels he showed to students captured more than 40 kids trying to squeeze onto a merry-go-round at a playground the nonprofit group installed in Trinidad. The organization also recycles playgrounds from local park districts that no longer need them for global sites. One playground from Lisle has a new life in Haiti, Falco said.

He called his "payday" seeing the smiles from kids.

"When you do something for people and you help them, those smiles are the same everywhere you go," said Falco, who graduated from Fenton in 1983.

Senior Stephanie Medina, vice president of the Fenton student council, said Falco's speech reinforced her own career interests.

"To know that someone else is doing it and being happy and making an impact just kind of motivated me to follow what I originally wanted to do to help children around the world," Medina said.

In November, Falco spearheaded an effort to recruit Fenton students and members of the soccer program to pack meals for Kids Around The World. The school had to close off the registration list because so many students signed up, Falco said after his talk to students.

In fact, more than 300 students set up about a dozen work stations at the school and packed 57,000 meals earmarked for Liberia, where Falco will travel with a team in the fall (likely in October, he says) to deliver the meals and build a playground.

He said he learned in high school how to "be selfish," at first sparking some chuckles in the crowd. But he explained students shouldn't settle.

"When I say be selfish, if you want to do it all, do it all," Falco said. "If you have things that you like, put them together and find a way to make them happen."

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