Family opens door to a brighter future

Dawnkevya Harper watches as her 1-year-old son, De-Legend Jones, plays with the keys to the front door of their new home in Fruitland Park built by members of The Villages Habitat for Humanity Club.

Dawnkevya Harper spent months hammering nails and helping hang sheetrock at her new home in Fruitland Park. On Monday, she finally got the keys and stepped inside the house for the first time as the homeowner. Harper and her family were chosen by Habitat for Humanity to receive a house in the area. They attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday surrounded by loved ones, neighbors and members of Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and The Villages Habitat Club. “I’m excited,” she said. “I came by almost every day to check on things and water the grass. I’m happy the kids will have a yard to play in.”

Harper has five children between the ages of 1 and 13 years old. Her youngest son, De-Legend Jones, and her oldest son, Raymond Reed, attended the ribbon-cutting along with Harper’s mother, Samantha Jackson, her fiance, Julius Daniels, and Daniels’ mother, Ema Mann. 

Harper was overcome with emotion, so her mother thanked the organization on behalf of the whole family.

“From the day she got the call she was getting the house, we all were so excited,” Jackson said. “It is a beautiful thing getting to see your loved ones have their own place to call home.”

In the home’s backyard sat a small playhouse called a Jingle House, something Habitat makes each Christmas season with local sponsors. The playhouse for the Harper family was sponsored by the Noon Rotary Club of The Villages.

Cindy Brown, a Noon Rotary member and communication relations representative with Congressman Daniel Webster’s office, said the playhouse was a sweet addition to the new home.

“(It) is an amazing organization,” Brown said. “We provide support to Habitat because of how important it is to our communities. I always love meeting families who are helped by Habitat.”

Neighbors also stopped by the house to welcome Harper and her family into the neighborhood.

Cheryl Baker, a neighbor from across the street, brought a small piece of home decor for the family when she introduced herself. “I’m really happy for them,” Baker said. “It has been a long time coming, getting the house ready. I just want them to feel like they are already a part of our neighborhood.”

Families chosen to receive a home from Habitat for Humanity put in “sweat equity” hours during the building process. Those hours can come in the form of work on the jobsite, financial literacy courses or educational courses.

Danielle Stroud, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, said no matter how many houses the organization builds, it’s always thrilling to see a family get their new home.

“It’s so great to see every house come to the finish line,” Stroud said. “We work side by side with the families to ensure they have everything they need in their new Habitat house.”

Sally Read and Kevin Tucker, co-presidents of The Villages Habitat Club, gave Harper and her family congratulatory hugs after they cut the ribbon.

“We started on this house the first of January,” said Read, of the Village of Tall Trees. “It took longer than normal because of supply issues, but I think the next one will go even faster.”

Read said the club’s goal is to start working on its next house by November.

“We’ll have a few more members by then, and the best part is the weather will be cooler, making it a lot less intense to work in,” she said.

For now, Harper and her family are ready to start this new chapter in their lives.

“I think the first thing we’ll do is cook a meal together,” Harper said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Senior writer Maddie Cutler can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5386, or maddie.cutler@thevillagesmedia.com.