ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – LaToya Reedy always dreamed of being a homeowner but it seemed unattainable.
As a single mother to her 18-year-old son, AnTrez, Reedy worked hard as a certified nursing assistant to provide a stable lifestyle for him, but the unpredictability of renting kept her living paycheck to paycheck.
“I got tired of paying the high rent,” she said, “and with renting it goes up every month.”
The constant increases in rent forced Reedy and her son to move into a tight, overcrowded living space with her mother. For two years they shared one room with her mother and rotated sleeping on the bed, and shared one bathroom with five family members in the household.
But on Tuesday morning her dream came true.
Thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties and its partnership with furniture company Aaron’s, healthcare provider Cigna, and former Buccaneer Warrick Dunn’s nonprofit, Warrick Dunn Charities, Reedy and her son received a fully-furnished two-bedroom, two-bathroom home at no cost to them.
Habitat for Humanity bought an empty lot at 918 43rd St. S near Childs Park and built the home, which spans nearly 2,000 square feet, while Aaron’s donated $10,000 toward furniture, appliances, and interior design, and Cigna donated $10,000 towards down payment assistance and groceries.
Reedy, 39, knew she would get the keys to her first home, but she was surprised to see it fully furnished with appliances, furniture, lawn equipment and electronics, and a kitchen stocked with groceries, a coffee maker, a Nutribullet and other cooking supplies.
“Oh my God this is beautiful,” she said as she walked in the front door. “I love it. This is everything.”
Overwhelmed with emotion, gratitude, and support from a crowd of people including her family, close friends, and community partners, Reedy was shaking and fought back tears as she thanked everyone who played a part in changing her and AnTrez’s life.
“Being a homeowner now, I can be at home,” Reedy said.
“I can be at peace. I can bring sweet memories to my house and I can have my family and my friends over. I have a home now, and that’s something that I’ve always wanted for my son, and for myself.”
But before Reedy received her new home she was busy helping other families get theirs.
She volunteered with Habitat for Humanity helping to construct other homes and completed more than 350 sweat equity hours, which surpasses the 300-hour minimum required as part of Habitat’s homeownership program prior to purchasing and moving into their Habitat home.
Candidates must also show a demonstrated housing need (overcrowding, unsafe, unsanitary conditions, etc.), meet income-related guidelines, and must be a Pinellas resident or worker for at least one year, among other qualifications.
When her turn for homeownership came, she thought she had an idea of what to expect, but she was continuously surprised.
In addition to a fully furnished home and stocked pantry, Cigna presented her with a stack of Publix gift cards amounting to $5,000 to keep her kitchen full of groceries and supplies.
“That’ll keep her out of Bonefish,” said her mother, Linda Reedy, when joking about her daughter’s obsession with the restaurant.
This marks the sixth home presentation in Pinellas County and the 173rd home presentation nationwide thanks to Warrick Dunn Charities as part of its “Home for the Holidays” initiative, which helps single-parent families achieve homeownership.
And for the retired running back, helping single parents like Reedy and seeing the joy they have achieving homeownership is therapeutic because it’s something he wanted for his own mother, a single parent of six kids who worked two jobs to make ends meet as a police officer and a security guard.
His family never got to see that joy after his mother was killed just days before Dunn’s 18th birthday. Instead, he became the father figure and raised his younger siblings while pursuing a football career at Florida State University and then moving on to play in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1997.
“Once I started going to counseling I realized that I was on cruise control and just going through it that I didn’t have time to mourn,” Dunn said.
“I just had to put my head down and get it done. I was just so focused on making sure that I could take care of my brothers and sisters, so that was my driving force.”
But now, he gets that joy through his charity and every family that benefits from his program.
“I’ve used this program as therapy,” Dunn said. “Every time I hand over those keys there’s a little piece of my mom and the things she wanted.”
And in every home, he leaves a “piece” of his mom by giving the families a baked apple pie, which was his mother’s favorite dessert.
Reedy, who said she doesn’t cook, appreciated the heartfelt gesture and got emotional as Dunn guided her through the home.
“It’s been a long, hard journey,” Reedy said. “Struggle and sacrifices, but we made it.”
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