Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer's NFL player Warrick Dunn stands with Erica's family in her new Sarasota home. 

Image: Sam Silver

Two local single mothers got the surprises of their lives on Tuesday as they arrived at their new homes with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Warrick Dunn waiting in the driveway. The families purchased their homes with the help of Sarasota Habitat for Humanity's affordable homeownership program—but they didn't know about the extras waiting for them inside. 

Mothers Erica and Lauren had both struggled on their journey to homeownership. In such a competitive real estate market, it's a challenge to find affordable housing.

Erica, a housekeeper for a large nursing home, works six days a week to care for her three teenagers. For the past five years, Lauren, an administrative assistant, had been renting a home riddled with mold and water leaks. She and her two young daughters needed affordable, safer living conditions.

Erica and Lauren's homes are part of Warrick Dunn Charities' national "Home for the Holidays" program, which helps families achieve homeownership. Erica and Lauren were the first in Sarasota to benefit. While the new homes were financed by Habitat for Humanity, the mothers didn't know Dunn would be handing them each a $5,000 check to go toward their down payment, or that he partnered with rent-to-own furniture dealer Aaron's to fill each home with $10,000 worth of furnishings. 

Volunteers and contributors watched as the families opened their new front doors. Shock, relief and joy spread across the faces of Lauren and Erica and their kids. Each had a tailored bedroom with colorful wall art, rugs and pillows. There were also new appliances, electronics and stocked food pantries. Lauren's daughter Emma couldn't choose a favorite item.

"It's too hard to pick. I feel rich," she said.

Lauren's daughter Emma sees her new bedroom for the first time.

Lauren's daughter Emma sees her new bedroom for the first time.

Image: Sam Silver

Partnerships between Habitat for Humanity Sarasota, Warrick Dunn Charities, Aaron's and local contributors like Publix and Stock Signature Homes can make a lasting impact on local communities, one family at a time. 

"I will forever be grateful for this," Lauren says. "I only hope I can do something to help others in the community. I want to be a part of Habitat for Humanity forever."

"I would never turn my back on this community," Dunn says. "I just want to continue seeing this area thrive and help families achieve their dreams of homeownership."

Dunn's charity's first home project was in his native state, Louisiana, but "Tampa Bay is where it all began," he says.

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