A home for the holidays

DADE CITY — It was finally quiet, or at least as quiet as it can get when you have six kids. The cameras that had rolled as a dazed Robin Knight toured her new home with Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Warrick Dunn were gone.

And Dunn, who looked tired after a late night and crushing defeat on Monday Night Football, had headed back to Tampa.

Knight sat on her living room sectional that still had that new-couch smell.

"I was determined to have a home for me and my kids," said the 36-year-old cashier at SweetBay supermarket. At the repeated urging of a customer, she and her cousin applied to be part of East Pasco Habitat for Humanity program. She knew she was approved, and had spent hours putting in the required "sweat equity" on the home.

But being approved for Dunn's Homes for the Holidays program came as a surprise.

Dunn greeted Knight and children Tuesday afternoon as they rolled up for the dedication ceremony. He escorted the family through their 1,500 square foot, five-bedroom, two-bathroom house, completely furnished. He even included a lighted Christmas tree. Packages wrapped in snowman paper peeked out from underneath.

Knight is a huge fan of Dunn. She reflected on how much the two have in common. Both lost their mothers at young ages, Dunn at 18, Knight at 5. Dunn was one of six kids. Knight is one of five kids and the mother of six.

But their lives took different turns.

Dunn got a scholarship to Florida State University and went on to play professional football. Knight spent her youth in foster homes and dropped out of high school her senior year. By 19, she was the mother of Lenwood. Five more children followed.

Lenwood is now 16 and a cornerback for Pasco High School. He hopes to go to college and play football. Knight's other kids are: Allahon, 13, A-student and "Miss Mouth"; Lakeitha, 12, a motherly type who loves to cook; Allah Jr., 10, a "mama's boy"; Ayanna, 9, "the baby girl"; and Kavbion, 7, who's full of energy and loves to carry around a small football.

Knight was a stay-at-home mom until she and the children's father broke up.

"I was fighting. I was partying," she said. "I was hanging around the wrong people."

A particular incident she won't discuss served as a wakeup call.

"I changed my circle of friends," she said. "I changed everything about me. I go to church now. My life now is work, home and kids."

She also got a job at a supermarket, but the hours weren't enough to support her family. Two years ago, she got hired at Sweetbay. She proudly recites the date: Jan. 17, 2007.

"They are like my second family," she said.

And at age 33, she got her GED.

"I walked across that stage with a cap and gown," she said.

Next up: chef's school.

"I could see myself working at a hospital or nursing home," she said. "I like to make people happy."

So does Dunn.

In the spring, he took another Dade City family on a tour of their new home that he also provided a down payment and furnishing for.

"You never get used to making people happy," he said then. "It never gets old."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Fast facts

Warrick Dunn's foundation helps families in need

Homes for the Holidays, a program of the nonprofit Warrick Dunn Foundation, was established in 1997. Its mission is to provide opportunities for economically disadvantaged single parents and their children who have demonstrated a commitment to achieve financial independence and stability. Dunn started the program to honor his own single mother, a Baton Rouge police officer killed in the line of duty. So far, Dunn has assisted 83 parents and 221 dependents. The Knight's home and another in west Pasco that was dedicated Tuesday were part of a $100,000 grant from Humana, Tampa Bay's benefits program. The funds will cover furnishings and down payment assistance for four homes, with each receiving $25,000. Two other families will be given homes in the spring.

A home for the holidays 12/09/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2008 2:02pm]

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