At 17, Kionna Myers knows the importance of having a place to call home. A place where you don't have to bug the landlord because the roof is caving in; a place you can live together as a family instead of staying with relatives while your mom makes do in a local hotel; a place with a welcoming front porch that you can take pride in, even if you have to share a room with a 6-year-old cousin whose tastes in decorating lean toward Dora the Explorer.
It's been a little over a year since Kionna moved into the brand-new Habitat home in Lacoochee that she shares with her mother, Soporro Burns, and a cousin who comes to stay most weekends. That move was spurred in part by Kionna's inquisitive and persistent nature after she heard a presentation about the organization during the Great American Teach-In at Pasco High.
The speaker was John Finnerty, then president and chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity of East and Central Pasco. Kionna approached him with the thought that Habitat might be a way to improve her family's scattered lot.
It didn't come easy.
Kionna and her mother put in some 400 required hours attending workshops and home- owner classes, volunteering at the Habitat Re-Store in Dade City and helping with the building of Habitat Homes, including the one that would become theirs. "I wasn't old enough to do the building part," Kionna said. "But I was able to do things like hand the men nails, paint, pick up trash and hand people bottles of water."
Finally came the day that she and her family moved in to their new home, fully furnished by former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Warrick Dunn.
"It isn't every day that you get to hang out with Warrick Dunn — it's a surprise every minute with him," Kionna said of the man who also gave about $5,000 toward the family's mortgage and has come to be a mentor.
It could have ended there, but Kionna and her mother stayed on. They have upped their volunteer efforts, far surpassing the 400-hour requirement set by the organization, said Stephanie Black, director of development and public relations. "Anytime I call, they're there," Black said. Kionna is a remarkable young woman, Black said. "Very focused. Hard working. Whatever she chooses to do, I'm sure she'll be successful."
So much so, that Black tapped the Pasco High senior to become a motivational speaker for the organization.
In early November, Kionna was one of three local students to travel to the Atlanta area to speak at the Habitat for Humanity International Youth Leadership Conference. She was joined by Summer Buchanan of Zephyrhills High and Trinity Carillo of Pasco Middle School, along with 300 student volunteer leaders from across the country.
Kionna, who had garnered experience speaking at a fundraising event for Habitat in March, shared the dreams she had of one day living in her own home, the "rock star moments" she experienced courtesy of Dunn and the wisdom passed down by her grandmother to "see service as an opportunity for so much more than a necessary step to going to college or having a good resume."
The last part is a philosophy Kionna lives, according to Pasco High career specialist Mignon Edwards. "She's dynamic — a well-rounded student," Edwards said. "She gives back to her community. She gives back to Pasco High. She gives back to her peers. She gives back to her teachers. I think she's fabulous."
Kionna is also a member of the Dade City Youth Council and the Future Business Leaders of America Club and DCT/OJT career training programs at her school. She is very active at St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Dade City and helps with her mother's cleaning business. She has been honored with the Presidential Service Award and the Jan Hendrick award for overcoming adversity in life.
After graduation she hopes to attend Saint Leo University and live on campus. Plans are also in the works for Kionna to speak at Habitat youth conferences in South Carolina and Massachusetts. That's something she says she's more than happy to do, especially if it helps others to see a dream come true.
"It's just so good to be all together and have a home to call our own," Kionna said. "Sometimes I still have to remind myself that this is my home."