Rae-Ann Lovesky returned home Sunday after a weekend with her three children at Disney World to find three fire trucks and neighbors lining the street in front of her home.
Lovesky, a 34-year-old single mother, left an abusive marriage a few years ago. Then she lost her job and fell behind on her bills. She hasn't worked this summer because day care costs for three would exceed any income she'd earn.
Now a house fire?
Nothing like that.
Friends, family, local businesses and even some complete strangers donated nearly $100,000 worth of resources and manpower for a four-day overhaul of Lovesky's home in the 7200 block of Seventh Avenue N.
"This is not my house," Lovesky screamed, with tear-filled eyes, as she fell to her knees after entering the home's front door. "I can't believe this is the same house!"
Upgrades include a new air conditioner system, kitchen cabinets and furniture, a flat-screen television, fresh tile and bathroom fixtures. Interior walls were torn down and a new room was added. The exterior has new front and backyard sod, shrubs and trees, a freshly laid concrete driveway, and a home security system, among dozens of upgrades.
The project started less than a month ago, when Lovesky and her best friend, Andrea Walls, were at the home in a rainstorm. Lovesky ran from the living room to her bedroom to place something on her bed to catch water leaking from the roof.
Walls and friends Thomas and Angela Ramsberger, who all spend time with Lovesky through the Parent-Teacher Association at Azalea Elementary School, wanted to help. They sent out letters to people in St. Petersburg asking them to help with a project for Lovesky.
Thomas Ramsberger, the founder of Ramsberger Law Group, and Walls, whose husband, CJ, owns Wall 2 Walls Construction, used their business connections in hopes of getting a few supporters. The turning point, Thomas Ramsberger said, came when Andrew and Steve Deslandes, owners of Deslandes Contracting, landed the bulk of the necessary supplies.
"We got the e-mail at 8 a.m. two weeks ago and by noon we had half of the suppliers willing to help," said Andrew Deslandes.
The overhaul began Thursday morning, after friends paid to send Lovesky and her family to Disney World. More than 200 volunteers and 70 local businesses contributed over the course of the weekend.
"It's moving," said Walls, Lovesky's friend of six years. "It's great to know a community can come together, especially in these economic times."
All weekend, new volunteers and businesses kept showing up.
"Every time I turn around, God sends another angel," said Lillian Keilitz, Lovesky's mother. "It's overwhelming that all these people are here to help my daughter and more than half of them don't know her."
Angela Ramsberger said, "It was definitely a team effort. I'm trying not to cry. It's a dream."
Kim Drunasky, who was the driver for the Orlando trip, was also shocked to the see the home.
"It started off so small and it just exploded," said Drunasky, friend of three years and also a member of the Azalea PTA. "She deserves it."
Ten minutes after she got home, Lovesky was still in disbelief.
"I wish I was here," she said, "so I could have been part of it."
Eddie R. Cole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779.