This holiday season will be a happy one for several disadvantaged, single mother families thanks to a unique program created by Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Warrick Dunn. Through his third 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. He will make the same dreams come true for three Tampa families the week before Christmas.
Accompanied by Baton Rouge Mayor Tom Ed McHugh, Dunn presented the families with keys and deeds to their respective properties on Tuesday, November 23. Two of the women, who purchased homes in the Timberwood Place subdivision, now live down the street from a family who moved into the neighborhood in 1998 with Dunn's help.
Every holiday season, Dunn makes the down payments on new houses in Baton Rouge and Tampa, then helps make each house a home by filling each with necessities such as furniture for every room, washers and dryers, linens, lawn and gardening equipment, dishes and kitchen appliances. Additionally, he stocks each kitchen with food, including a turkey and all the trimmings for a Thanksgiving dinner.
On November 23, Dunn traveled to each Homes for the Holidays house and presented the families 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 will carry out the program in Tampa on Tuesday, December 21. Like he did in Baton Rouge, the third-year pro will stock each home with the necessities to get it up and running, including a Christmas tree with decorations and food for a holiday meal.
To date, Dunn has touched the lives of 14 single mothers and 37 children through Homes for the Holidays. That number will climb after he carries out the program in Tampa later this month.
"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."
Dunn helped the Baton Rouge families purchase their homes in conjunction with the City of Baton Rouge's Office of Community Development. In Tampa, he works with the City of Tampa's Challenge Fund Loan Program and Tampa Mayor Dick Greco's "Own-A-Home" program. Tampa families who are without housing or who currently live in public housing are eligible to participate in Mayor Greco's program.
Both the Tampa and Baton Rouge initiatives allow low-income families and first-time homebuyers the opportunity to purchase homes at below market rates of interest. Dunn runs Homes for the Holidays through the respective city offices in order to select families who have already proven capable of maintaining monthly payments and place them in homes that have gone through city inspections and are ready to be listed on the market.
"I started this program because I wanted to do something that would make a difference in the lives of some deserving people," Dunn said. "We're put on this earth to help those who are not as fortunate. In my opinion, that's what the holidays are all about."