When Joyce Tohill found out she was getting a home built, she never anticipated it would be the home of her dreams. The Tavares resident had dreamed of having a home she could leave to her children if something ever happened to her. “We are so excited to move in and have celebrations in our home,” she said. “I never thought I would ever be able to have a home of my own.” On Tuesday, members of The Villages Habitat for Humanity Club, Tohill’s family, staff from Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and various friends and guests gathered at the build site in Fruitland Park for the dedication ceremony. While the family cannot officially move in until papers are signed in June, The Villages club finished early and was eager to hand the keys over to the family.
“Throughout the entire build, we have really gotten to know Joyce and her family,” said Sally Read, co-president of the club. “They have become good friends and we wanted to make things special for them.”
Preparing for the ceremony
Before the ceremony began, staff from Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter set chairs out on the lawn and laid out snacks on a table.
Carlos Beron, volunteer service manager for the nonprofit, set up a speaker and made sure batteries were placed in the microphone.
“We have been waiting for this ceremony for awhile,” he said. “They are a great family to work with.”
Lacie Himes, development director for the nonprofit, began settiing out oranges, muffins and bananas for those in attendance.
“We are so excited for this family,” she said with a smile as she started distributing orange juice and coffee.
As guests began to arrive, staff members told them they could take a peek inside the house if they wanted.
“The club did a really great job with this house,” said Shari McCray, marketing and communications coordinator for Habitat for Humanity. “They personalized this house just for this family and they finished in record time. You can see the love they had for this family in each room in the house and they have additional surprises coming.”
During the ceremony, Tohill and her family thanked all of those involved in the build. Danielle Stroud, director of development for Habitat for Humanity, gave a quick speech about the nonprofit’s mission.
“I’ve had the privilege to work with Habitat for the past six years,” she said. “Habitat is all about bridging that gap so you don’t have to struggle to have a home. Its mission is to bring families together with other local volunteers throughout the community — every homeowner is amazing.”
Throughout the ceremony, Tohill was presented a number of gifts, including a Bible signed by all the volunteers who assisted with the build, as well as a set of tools and an American flag dedicated by Al Lane, Florida Society Past Chapter president for Sons of the American Revolution.
Tohill cried as she high-fived Stroud before she was handed the keys to the home.
“It has been a long journey,” Tohill said. “I remember a time when I lived in my car and then a shelter with four children because I couldn’t afford a home. Having a disabled child, it hindered saving money for a home and although we were able to rent, it’s been rough — while that isn’t fully part of this story, it has been a long journey and I’m so excited that chapter is coming to an end and I can have my own home, even if I still struggle.”
Walking inside, Tohill saw laminate flooring and earth-tone colors. She smiled as she led guests through her new home. Opening the door to a bedroom designed for her special needs 35-year-old daughter, Cindy Monroe, she smiled and held back tears.
“There’s little fish painted on the walls with special messages reminding her to have a good day and that she is loved,” said Tohill. “It’s so cute and it was a wonderful surprise the team put together.”
Read, of the Village of Tall Trees, beamed with pride.
“I just wanted to create something a little special for her, so I designed this room for her,” she said. “We have grown so close with this family and with it being our first build as a club, we wanted to do something unique.”
As Tohill continued to walk through the house, her smile grew larger.
“I can’t wait to do holidays in this house and watch my grandchildren grow up here,” she said. “The club has done an absolute amazing job and I wouldn’t have this beautiful home without them.”
Club members reflect
Kevin Tucker, co-president of the club, waited outside while Tohill and her family walked through the home.
“It was a great way to give back in a way that is very unique,” the Village Del Mar resident said. “We began building, I believe, around December, and we finished in record time — ahead of schedule. It’s like once we got started, we couldn’t put the tools down.”
Marv Boden, a Fruitland Park resident who assisted with the build, said he was pleased with the end result.
“It was very fulfilling to finish this home,” he said. “I may not live in The Villages, but I enjoyed working with this group. We also cannot wait for the next build, so we can help another family in need, but we will take the summer off.”
As Tohill stepped outside the house to thank everyone once again, she hugged Read and Tucker.
“I want to thank all of you for making this a reality,” she said. “I’m so thankful for this opportunity and it truly is a dream come true. I don’t know what we would have done without this group and it amazes me they finished a house as great as this when they’ve only been a club for a year and a half.”
The group will begin building its second home around October.
Senior writer Andrea Davis can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5374, or firstname.lastname@example.org.