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Families receive home for the holidays

Bucs running back Warrick Dunn, left, looks on as Devin Cooke, 15, mother Sarah and sister Lauren, 10, react to their new house through West Pasco Habitat for Humanity.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Bucs running back Warrick Dunn, left, looks on as Devin Cooke, 15, mother Sarah and sister Lauren, 10, react to their new house through West Pasco Habitat for Humanity.

NEW PORT RICHEY — A dark, wooden table with four chairs sits in the living room.

A Dell computer is perched atop a computer desk.

The spacious kitchen has a fully stocked pantry that includes boxes of macaroni and cheese, microwave popcorn and Stovetop stuffing.

Sarah Cooke's new house on Marley Avenue has all the trappings of the typical middle-class home — and it's a world away from the moldy mobile home where she and her two kids have been living for the past eight months.

"I'm about ready to pass out," Cooke, 35, said to the small crowd of Habitat for Humanity officials and neighbors who assembled outside her new digs on Tuesday. "It's beautiful. I could never have done this."

Cooke knew she was getting a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home through West Pasco Habitat for Humanity. What she didn't know until Tuesday was that the Warrick Dunn Foundation was throwing in a down payment and all the furnishings.

Or that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back would be there in person to welcome her home.

Standing in front of the 1,150-square-foot house, a tired Dunn told the crowd he got back in town at about 4 a.m. after a loss in North Carolina.

Dunn said helping single mothers become homeowners is an issue that's close to his heart after relocating half a dozen times during his childhood and watching his mother struggle to afford a home.

"She always rented," Dunn said of his mother. "I thought if I could do something I could be passionate about, it's helping families become stable."

Then, Dunn reached into his pocket and handed Cooke her house key.

"I never would have experienced this dream, so thank you," Cooke said to Dunn. "Thank you very much."

Cooke, a home health nurse, said she's struggled to make ends meet since she got divorced in 2002.

Cooke, her son Devin, 15, and daughter Lauren, 10, moved around, struggling to find stability. They ended up at the Hudson mobile home about eight months ago.

A few months ago, Cooke received approval for her Habitat home. Habitat resource coordinator Rick Pittenger referred Cooke for Dunn's "Homes for the Holidays" program, which provides $5,000 down payments, new home furnishings and food to single mothers.

Dunn chose Cooke and another family in Dade City that he visited Tuesday afternoon.

Cooke was greeted at her new home Tuesday by a crowd that included Dunn, officials from his organization and Habitat for Humanity.

She and her children walked inside. With tears in her eyes, Cooke wandered around the house, marveling at every room.

Her daughter, Lauren, cried when she saw her bedroom, with its white walls and light pink and green comforter set.

A short time later, after the tears subsided, Lauren said, "It's awesome, man."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Families receive home for the holidays 12/09/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 9:42pm]

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