Mary Maldonado stepped into a driveway in Dade City on Nov. 7 expecting to take a few photos in front of a home she was preparing to buy.
She got a lot more than she bargained for.
Maldonado arrived with her infant son, Leonni, and was greeted by Warrick Dunn, former NFL player and philanthropist. His charity, Homes for the Holidays, helps single parents realize their dreams of owning a home.
Partnering with Habitat for Humanity of East and Central Pasco County, who helped Maldonado through the home-buying process and set her up with an advantageous loan, Dunn welcomed her into a fully furnished home with a well-stocked kitchen. From living room furniture to a bedroom set for Leonni, the home was move-in ready.
She signed the ownership paperwork, received her keys, and accepted a ceremonial check for $5,000, which went toward her mortgage, courtesy of Homes for the Holidays.
Not bad for a Friday morning.
“Seeing the house and everything, it definitely paid off,” Maldonado said. “It’s very exciting.”
It also was Maldonado’s hard work that paid off to get to this point. As part of Habitat for Humanity’s homebuyer program, she had to put in 400 hours of volunteer work, which she scheduled around her full-time job. She also attended special classes on home maintenance and safety to prepare for ownership and help her navigate through unfamiliar challenges.
The volunteer hours and classes are worth it when their customers finally see themselves as homeowners, according to Gloria Sadler, director of family services for Habitat for Humanity.
“They’re humble. They can’t believe it,” she said. “They can’t believe that I got them to this point.”
Sadler teaches the homeowner classes and walks the homebuyer through each step in the process, explaining forms and helping them get their paperwork together.
While Habitat for Humanity provides a no-down payment, interest-free loan, applicants need to meet certain criteria to be eligible. They must have a need for affordable housing and have been at their current employer for at least one year.
And while they don’t need perfect credit or a specific credit score, applicants must demonstrate that they have a history of taking responsibility for their debts.
“Not everyone qualifies,” explained Stephanie Black, director of development and public relations at Habitat for Humanity. “We’re not doing them any favors by putting them into a home that they can’t afford.”
As a result of the screening process, volunteer work and classes, default rates are very low.
This was the 140th event for Homes for the Holidays, and Dunn — a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer — has been to almost all of them in the charity’s 17 years. For Maldonado’s celebration, he had to drive in from Atlanta. But he believes it’s important to attend each one while he can.
“For me, it’s the experience,” Dunn said. “Getting those expressions and how they react.”
Sometimes the reactions come later, after the presentation and when the new homeowner can sit in their house and realize it really belongs to them.
While he often has to travel to attend the events — Homes for the Holidays has helped families in a dozen cities and plans to keep growing — Dunn pays for all his travel expenses out of his own pocket.
Dunn’s charity honors his mother, Betty Smothers, who died before realizing her own dream of home ownership. Now his charity helps single families realize that dream, and Dunn said he witnessed the true importance of charity’s work after he saw the first event covered on television.
“When I went home and I watched the news, then it really hit me, the impact that I had that day,” he said. “Now I really understand the impact on the community.”
Habitat for Humanity’s impact is seen in new homeowners like Maldonado and those who are going through the process of buying a home. And completing that process results in a great deal of satisfaction for both the homeowner, and Habitat for Humanity’s employees as well.
“I love it,” Sadler said. “To see the smile on the family’s faces, to get to know the kids and the family, it’s an honor and a privilege to work for Habitat for Humanity.”
Published November 12, 2014
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