Moving into a new home is exciting enough, but Warrick Dunn put it over the top with a special gift.
By MEGAN SCOTT
Published December 3, 2003
[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Tampa Bay Bucs player Aaron Stecker gives Tatishka Thomas and her son Keanan Musgrove a tour of their new home.
CLEARWATER - She was coming to sign the papers.
But when she pulled up to the new three-bedroom home on Beckett Street, an unexpected crowd standing on the lawn preceded the bigger surprise inside. A red ribbon graced the front door. Her pastor blessed the house.
TV cameras rolled as Tatishka Thomas opened the door Tuesday morning. As she looked around her new home, the tears began to fall.
"It's all yours," said Tampa Bay Bucs player Aaron Stecker. "Can I show you around? You deserve it. We'll start in the kitchen."
Thomas, 26, of Clearwater, and her two children, Armoni Clarit, 7, and Keanan Musgrove, 3, walked through the fully furnished room past the Christmas tree, through the dining room and into the appliance-filled kitchen.
On the counters were boxes of new dishes, bakeware, pots, pans and utensils. The pantry opened to reveal pasta, oatmeal, cereal, pancake syrup and other staples. A glass container filled with cookies sat near the sink.
The towels were folded nicely on top of the closed toilet seats in the bathrooms. The bedrooms had phones and clock radios. Even the curtains were already up.
All courtesy of Warrick Dunn, an Atlanta Falcons football player, former Buc and well-known supporter of affordable housing efforts in Tampa Bay. But Thomas didn't know about Dunn's gift until she arrived Tuesday at the home she was purchasing.
The presentation was part of the Warrick Dunn Foundation's Homes for the Holidays, a program Dunn established in 1997 to help low-income single mothers become first-time home buyers. The running back gives them $5,000 toward purchasing a home, then works with local businesses to furnish them. Aaron's Sales & Lease provided the furniture and other items. The recipients are responsible for keeping up the mortgage payments.
Dunn was unable to attend because of recent surgery, but his former teammate Stecker was there to make the presentation.
"He's disappointed he couldn't be here," Stecker said. "He's looking forward to seeing it on TV. He's been through this type of experience, being raised by a single mother. He's going to keep doing this every year."
Stecker made a presentation earlier Tuesday in Tampa before coming to Clearwater. This was the first time a Pinellas County home has been part of the program.
The kids spent part of Tuesday afternoon exploring their new home. The 1,276-square-foot home was priced at $109,000.
Keanen's bedroom has a bunk bed with a football and baseball mitt pillow. He has already decided he's going to take the top bunk. Armoni has a computer in her bedroom. On the nightstand is a dream journal.
"I can write my dreams in here," Armoni said. "I like my computer, my brother's room, the whole house. Whoa. This is a big closet. I get a big bed. I got my own mirror."
Isay Gulley, president of Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services, nominated Thomas for the program without her knowledge. Thomas fit the criteria: a single mother who was going to be closing on a home in December. She told Thomas to write her life struggles down. Then she submitted the pages with Thomas' application to the foundation.
Thomas, who works at Bay Pines VA Medical Center, had been living in an apartment for the past few years. She graduated from Dunedin High School in 1995. Four days before leaving for college, she found out she was pregnant. She was able to complete a medical assistant's program and got an associate's degree from Florida Metropolitan University. She hopes to go back to school next year.
Thomas planned to move her belongings in on Tuesday. But that won't be necessary now. Armoni told her she should donate their furniture.
For the moment, though, Thomas let it all sink in.
"I have no words right now," Thomas said. "I'm still in shock. This is going to be the best Christmas ever. I thank God for this. If it wasn't for God I wouldn't have anything."