Warrick Dunn, second from the right, makes sure the new homeowners have furniture, appliances and food when they move in
This holiday season will be a happy one for several families thanks to a unique program created by Buccaneers RB Warrick Dunn.
Through his fourth annual "Homes for the Holidays" initiative, Dunn enabled three single mothers from his Louisiana hometown of Baton Rouge to become first-time homeowners two days before Thanksgiving, and helped make the same dreams come true for three Tampa families on Tuesday, December 12.
Dunn created Homes for the Holidays in 1997, his rookie season, in an effort to reward single mothers for their hard work in raising their children and taking the necessary steps to purchase their own homes. The program, which he carries out every holiday season in Baton Rouge and Tampa, involves Dunn making down payments on new houses and working with local businesses to turn the houses into homes by filling them with such necessities as furniture for every room, washers and dryers, linens, lawn and garden equipment, dishes and kitchen appliances.
Dunn also stocks each kitchen with food, including a turkey, ham and all the trimmings for a holiday dinner, and provides Christmas trees with lights and decorations to give the home a warm, holiday glow. He then presents the new homes to their proud owners and witnesses them signing their closing documents during the weeks before and during the holidays.
Dunn helps Tampa families who are purchasing their homes through the City of Tampa's Challenge Fund Loan Program and Tampa Mayor Dick Greco's "Own-A-Home" program. In Baton Rouge, he works with the City of Baton Rouge's Office of Community Development. Both initiatives allow low-income families and first-time homebuyers the opportunity to purchase homes at below-market interest rates. Dunn selects mothers that have already qualified for a home loan through their city's program and are able to assume the monthly mortgage payments.
On Tuesday, November 21, Dunn traveled to Baton Rouge where he presented three single moms with keys and deeds to their respective properties. There were smiles, tears, hugs and plenty of thanks to go around as Dunn toured the houses with the mothers and children who had never before lived in homes of their own.
Dunn carried out the program in Tampa on December 12. Like he did in Baton Rouge, he stocked each home with the necessities to get it up and running, including a Christmas tree with decorations and food for a holiday meal.
"Homes for the Holidays is special because it allows me to help families enjoy the holiday season in the comfort of their first new home," Dunn said. "It gives me the chance to reward single mothers who have worked their way through some pretty tough situations and qualified for a home loan. I am grateful for the opportunity to give them a little extra help in achieving their dreams of buying a home for their families."
As a new aspect of the program, Dunn hosted two Homes for the Holidays reunions this year, one in Baton Rouge and one in Tampa, where he brought together mothers and children who have received a home with help from his program. The reunion enabled him to spend quality time with many of the 22 single moms and 66 children that have been involved with Homes for the Holidays in past years and in 2000.
Dunn's grandmother, Willie Wheeler, cooked a Thanksgiving feast for the Baton Rouge families and nearly 100 reunion guests, then traveled to Tampa to cook another holiday meal for an even larger group of Tampa families and reunion guests on December 12.
The families enjoyed spending time with Dunn and discussing with him how they like being homeowners. Some families presented him with Christmas gifts, and many gave him hugs and posed for photos with their favorite NFL player.
"It was good to see that everyone was doing well," said Dunn.