ST. PETERSBURG — After Hurricane Irma damaged the roof of her Harbordale neighborhood rental home, Laquinda Currie was forced to move her mattress into the living room. Then the ceiling there also threatened to collapse.
In the kitchen, mold behind the stove aggravated her older son's allergies. When she could take no more, Currie, a single working mother with sickle cell anemia, packed up her two sons and moved into her childhood home, where her mother and brother still live.
Currie, 37, and her sons, Samuel, 14, and Semaj, 9, are moving again this week. Monday, they received the keys to their new Habitat home. The yellow three-bedroom, two-bath, one-car garage home with ixoras and crotons and an American flag out front represents a dream fulfilled.
And as the 500th house built by Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County since 1985, it's a significant milestone.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said those who have benefited from the program have had their lives changed forever.
"They now have hope," he said.
Currie thanked Habitat for giving her family "a chance to be able to have our own home" and speaking directly to her young sons, she said she wants them to remember that their new home is a blessing.
"Blessing" is a word she uses often when speaking of the yellow house on Fairfield Avenue S — a short block behind John Hopkins Middle School — that she calls her ''ray of sunshine."
"I am beyond excited. It's beautiful," she said days earlier as she sat on a couch in her mother's living room. "I wanted my kids to grow up and when they go away to college they would always have a place to come home."
"I finally have my own room," said Semaj, a fourth-grader at Mount Vernon Elementary School .
Samuel, in the ninth grade at the Canterbury School of Florida, said he is looking forward to both having his own room and a basketball hoop in the front yard.
Last year, Habitat built 60 homes in Pinellas County, CEO Mike Sutton said. Families are approved for the program based on their need and ability to pay a mortgage. Homeowners get a zero interest mortgage.
Currie will pay about $430 a month plus taxes and insurance for her $154,000 home. "That makes it affordable, especially in St. Petersburg, where there's a lack of affordable housing," Sutton said.
Habitat homeowners must save up $1,000 toward their down payment. He said Currie received a portion of hers from the city of St. Petersburg as part of its affordable housing program. The city also provided some funding for the lot, Sutton said, with the remainder of the money raised by Habitat.
Would-be homeowners must attend 20 classes and complete 350 to 450 hours of what Habitat refers to as "sweat equity" hours. That includes working on their own home and others.
Having sickle cell sometimes made it difficult for Currie to put in the required hours. The disease, which affects mainly African-Americans and Hispanics, is an inherited form of anemia. It causes blood cells to change shape from a normal, malleable disc to a rigid crescent or sickle shape that can block blood flow to organs. The disease can cause strokes and intense pain.
"I'm tired all the time, Currie said. "I have had a lot of surgeries."
Still, she was able to complete more than the required sweat equity hours — 369 in all.
"My nephew helped me out," she said of Roreco Currie, 19. She praised her mother, Linda Rollins, her "backbone," for always being available to help with her boys.
Currie, who graduated from Osceola High School and the University of Central Florida, works in medical billing for Dr. Marc Barasch of St. Petersburg. It's a job she's held for 14 years.
"He let me take days off to let me do what I had to do. I couldn't ask for a better boss," Currie said, adding that he has been supportive through her battle with sickle cell, which saw her on life support in St. Anthony's Hospital for three weeks earlier this year.
Her family's new house represents stability, safety, love — and joy, she said. "We're here. We don't have to move anymore."