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Erik Estrada's Current Beat is Kindness and Compassion

At 74, the former 'CHiPs' star is hosting a new docuseries dedicated to renovating homes for those in need

By Lisa Iannucci

Erik Estrada is a television icon who has been entertaining audiences since he first hit the airwaves as Officer Frank "Ponch" Poncherello in the NBC crime drama "CHiPs" in 1977. Now at 74 years old, Estrada has no intention of slowing down. He says he can't.

A headshot of Erik Estrada in CHiPs. Next Avenue
Erik Estrada as Officer Francis Llewellyn 'Ponch' Poncherello  |  Credit: NBCUniversal/Getty

"I have to be busy," said Estrada, the host of the new docuseries "Divine Renovation," a home renovation show that adds a spiritual element and brings community members, not-for-profit organizations and houses of worship together. The churches in each community will be the cornerstone of the show providing care, support and spiritual guidance during this process.

"My mom cried when I told her I wanted to be an actor."

In the first season, the crew builds a ramp for a physically challenged child, installs handrails and provides a rollator for an older adult, landscapes an overrun garden that a homeowner can no longer care for, and creates a refreshed environment for a veteran.

"It feels great to go into the house of a child with Down Syndrome and autism, with a mother who has such deep love for her child that she even works with other children in the community with the same problems," said Estrada. "And all they need is for us to fix up a room and make it playable and safe. They can't afford it, but this is what we do. How can that not make you feel good?"

"Divine Renovation" keeps Estrada, who grew up in New York and now lives in California, busy and he loves that. "I've been this way since I was five years old when I sold snow cones with my grandfather and then graduated to Columbus Circle with a shoeshine box," he said. "I always had a job after school, including at a laundromat, but then I dreamed of being a cop."

In high school, his interest in a girl turned his attention to drama club. "I got the acting bug there," he said. "My mom cried when I told her I wanted to be an actor."

But he made a deal with her. "I told her 'It's my place to take care of you and if I can't have you living like a queen the way you should, I'll give it up,'" he said. "At 27, I got lucky to get "ChiPs" and actually play a cop. I moved my mother out of Spanish Harlem and moved her into a place on 57th Avenue."

Erik Estrada with a group of people in the background. Next Avenue
Erik Estrada in an episode of "Divine Renovation"  |  Credit: Bridgestone Media Group

Estrada said that his first exposure to spirituality came when he was cast in the 1970 film "The Cross and the Switchblade," which also starred Pat Boone as small-town preacher David Wilkerson. Based on the book of the same name, Wilkerson risked his life to travel to Brooklyn and talk about Jesus to gang members. One of those was Nicky Cruz, played by Estrada.

"When I'm hurting, in trouble, down, depressed or scared, I ask God to help get me through it," said Estrada, a father of three. "God is within everyone; you just have to seek him out. You have to want it and not wait until you need it."


As a young boy, Estrada explains that he named his inner child 'Papo,' a name his grandfather once called him.

"When I got hurt, I promised myself I wasn't going to ever let my inner child get hurt, abused or destroyed again, so I protected him," said Estrada. "Protecting him also meant being compassionate for others."

Erik Estrada hauling away a large tree branch. Next Avenue
Erik Estrada hauling brush for an episode in Wilmington, NC  |  Credit: Bridgestone Media Group

Works of Spirituality and Charity

As a result, he committed himself to work with such charities as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), an education program that seeks to prevent the use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs and violent behavior. Estrada also devoted time to the American Heart Association, United Way and the C.H.P. 11-99 Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides benefits and scholarships to California Highway Patrol family members, as well as funeral expenses for fallen officers.

"I want to be a healthy 90-year-old"

It's this critical combination of spirituality and charity that sparked Estrada's interest in working with "Divine Renovation."

"I've played in the sunshine, been up and down the mountain, made the money and spent the money, and now it's all about strength, loving, kindness and compassion," he said. "It's a very compassionate, God-loving, blessing kind of a thing to do."

Today, he loves his life and plans on working for a long time. "I want to be a healthy 90-year-old and I've devoted many years to exercise and nutrition," said Estrada, who walks on the Stairmaster and works out at his at-home gym. "I believe you have to be as strong as your legs are because they are what carry your body everywhere."

Lisa Iannucci writes about travel and entertainment. She is the founder of The Virgin Traveler, a travel blog for those who are finally getting a chance to travel later in life, and Reels Travels Magazine. She is the author of "The Film/TV Lover’s Travel Guide" and"Road Trip: A Sports Lover's Travel Guide." She is also the host of The Write Start podcast. Read More
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