DADE CITY — Shawn Palic walked into her new home Monday morning with her three kids and a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer by her side.
Palic, 39, glanced at the dark leather couches, 48-inch flat screen TV and glass coffee tables in her living room and gasped before speaking.
"I love it," she said. "Thank you so much."
Warrick Dunn, whose nonprofit organization partnered with East Pasco Habitat for Humanity to build and furnish the four-bedroom, 1 1/2 bathroom house, eased the mood for a grateful Palic.
"You can dance or cry. It's okay," said Dunn, a running back who was released by the Bucs in February. "Now let's start in the kitchen. I know you like to eat."
Palic had been part of the East Pasco Habitat for Humanity building crew for her home on Coleman Avenue, but had no idea the Warrick Dunn Foundation was providing furniture, lawn care and food for the 1,274-square-foot house.
Palic's house marks the third Pasco home that Dunn has helped a family move into since December. This home was a far cry from the two-bedroom, 630-square-foot mobile home in Zephyrhills that Palic and her children used to live in.
During Monday's downpour, Palic and her children — 15-year-old Shayla Palic, 11-year-old Dakota Palic and 1-year-old Adam Burgess — walked around the inside of their new digs in shock.
In the kitchen, there was a dark wood table with four chairs and a fresh apple pie beneath a glass pie case. Unopened boxes of kitchenware, including an electric griddle and a nine-piece Pyrex set, sat on the floor.
Near the table in the pantry were jars of Ragu spaghetti sauce and peanut butter and boxes of elbow macaroni and Stove Top turkey stuffing, bought from Publix by Dunn's foundation.
Standing in the doorway of her bedroom, Dakota peered inside and grinned at her new bed, decorated with a white bedskirt and a pink, blue and green floral bed set.
"I like the whole room," she said.
Pitched in to build it
Dakota's mother said she had always wanted to be a homeowner, but didn't think it would become a reality while she worked as a receptionist at Florida Medical Clinic and raised three kids.
"I wanted to own a home for a long time, but being a single mom, I didn't think I could do it," said Palic, who is divorced.
One day last fall, Palic heard a presentation from Foundation of Caring officials at her job. Someone mentioned Habitat for Humanity's work to help families get homes.
Palic applied in August and was accepted a month later. Work began on her house in January. As part of the agreement with Habitat, Palic was required to perform 400 hours of construction work on the house.
Unbeknownst to her, Habitat officials sent her application to Dunn's foundation, who figured she'd be a perfect fit for the Homes for the Holidays program.
"It's really rewarding," said John J. Finnerty, president of East Pasco Habitat for Humanity. "I've been blessed in my life, so to be able to help someone else is great."
On Monday, about 50 friends, co-workers and members of Habitat and the Foundation of Caring floated through the house, feet squeaking on the shiny floors from the rain.
Palic said she felt overwhelmed and grateful to have the home she always wanted.
After everyone filtered out and all the paperwork for her new house was signed, Palic said she had one thing left to do when all the excitement died down.
"I'm going to sit down," she said, "and take it all in."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4609.