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Dade City family gets Habitat house, extras from Dunn

Christine Bonilla reacts to her new bedroom. Around her, from left, are Cirino Bonilla, 10, Lupe Rodela (Christine’s mom), Angela Arcadio, 18, Warrick Dunn and Celena Bonilla, 12.

MIKE PEASE | Times

Christine Bonilla reacts to her new bedroom. Around her, from left, are Cirino Bonilla, 10, Lupe Rodela (Christine’s mom), Angela Arcadio, 18, Warrick Dunn and Celena Bonilla, 12.

DADE CITY — At first, the family didn't recognize the soft-spoken young man in the brown T-shirt and baggy jeans.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked as he greeted Christine Bonilla, her five children and mother outside the beige four-bedroom home that they were set to move into Tuesday morning.

It wasn't until the man removed his shades that 20-year-old Julio Bonilla started to figure things out.

"I recognized him as somebody on TV," he said. "I said, 'That's somebody famous.'"

Christine and her family knew they were receiving a home from East Pasco Habitat for Humanity. After all, they had spent hours helping build it, a term the nonprofit organization calls "sweat equity."

What they didn't know was that the Warrick Dunn Foundation, founded in 1997 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneer-turned-Atlanta Falcon-turned-Buccaneer again, had chosen the family as one of those to receive a $5,000 down payment, furnishings and a fully stocked pantry and refrigerator.

The home marked the 75th that the Dunn Foundation dedicated and the first since the running back agreed to a $6-million, two-year contract to play again in red and pewter. It also was the first Dunn home in east Pasco. Dunn was scheduled to dedicate two more homes later that day in Tampa as part of his Homes for the Holidays program. The three celebrations were to commemorate Mother's Day.

"It's great to be in Dade City. I didn't know you guys were so far away from Tampa," Warrick Dunn joked after greeting the family.

Christine Bonilla wiped away tears as she thanked Dunn. She's a huge Bucs fan, Julio said, even collects Bucs paraphernalia, but she didn't know individual players. Once she learned the identity of her benefactor, she was awestruck.

"He's a player," the 37-year old said. "Oh my God. I don't know what to say."

The home was move-in ready, with a computer and flat-screen television in the great room, bedrooms that were adorned with comforter sets and coordinating curtains and a kitchen pantry that included spaghetti, canned beans, macaroni and cheese, Shake N' Bake, popcorn, blueberry muffin mix, chicken noodle soup, tea bags and toaster pastries. The fridge was equally full. Outside, Dunn even threw in a lawn mower.

The family toured the home with reporters in tow. The kids grinned as each found his or her room. The last door to be opened was Christine's room. She smiled through tears as she sat on a cherry wood sleigh bed with a cream colored spread, topped with a breakfast tray and a vase of two roses.

Angela Bonilla saw her mother's joy and said she deserved it.

"We've never had our own rooms," she said, adding that the kids, ranging from age 20 to 10, had shared one room in her grandmother's mobile home.

"My older brother and I slept on the couch," she said. "The others slept on the floor."

Bonilla, who fled one man's abuse and was left to raise five kids by another, has worked more than four years as an assistant to the dietary manager at Zephyr Haven Health & Rehab Center. Her supervisor noted on the nomination form that she has never seen Christine "when she was down or angry … she doesn't let anything interfere with her work. She doesn't complain and can't think of anyone who deserves to have a blessing bestowed upon them more than Christine Bonilla."

Dunn seemed as excited as the Bonillas as he encouraged them to sit on their beds and "go a little bit crazy."

During the tour, a television reporter pulled Dunn aside and asked if he was "used to this."

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

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

>>Fast facts

Dunn's program

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 77 parents and 201 dependents.

Dade City family gets Habitat house, extras from Dunn 05/06/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2008 10:06am]
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