NFL Player, Church
Help Area Families

By Harry Rissetto
United Methodist News Service

TAMPA, Fla. (UMNS) -- One of pro football's star rookies scored touchdowns with four area families recently by helping them become first-time home owners.

Warrick Dunn, a running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, teamed up with the Tampa United Methodist Centers (TUMC) and the city to help the families with down payments and home furnishings. All of the homes had been bought and rehabilitated by TUMC.

One recent morning, Dunn, TUMC Executive Director Rev. Louis Jones and Mayor Dick Greco boarded a large bus at the Buccaneers' office to visit the four houses and hand the keys over to the new owners.

A large Buccaneers flag hung above the garage of the first house, at 6218 Rolling Hammock Place. A bright red bow was tied to the front door, and the entire house was gift-wrapped with a wide red ribbon.

Dunn addressed the crowd that had assembled around the front yard.

"God is shining on everyone today," he said. "I can look back on my life and see how I struggled and how my family struggled. I have always wanted to do something to give back to someone who wasn't as fortunate as I was. It is an honor to do something for this community."

The home's new owner, Latesha Thomas, 24, is a NationsBank employee and the mother of two young girls. She had worked for months with the city's Mayor's Challenge Fund to arrange financing to purchase the home.

"First of all, I would like to thank God," Thomas said. "This is truly a blessing for me and my kids. Four generations of my family are here today, and I am the first one to own my own home."

After Jones blessed the house, the surprise was unveiled. Thomas was speechless as she clipped the red ribbon and walked through the front door of her new home for the first time.

Not only had Dunn made a personal donation to help Thomas with her down payment, but he and the Buccaneers had rounded up a team of their own to make the house extra special. Helped by local merchants, they had filled the house with Christmas gifts.

Badcock provided the furniture, Sears furnished a clothes washer and dryer, and Publix filled the cabinets and refrigerators with food. J.C. Penney, Babies 'R Us, Home Depot, Security Link, GTE and Target also helped outfit each home.

More hugs were given, and tears fell. Thomas' oldest daughter, Ariel, 5, raced to her bedroom and excitedly told her mother that there were Disney sheets on her new bed.

Dunn and Jones continued their visits, handing over new sets of keys to three more new homeowners -- Brenda Oshodin, Sandra Pastrana and Roxie Jones.

At the second house, Dunn and Jones were met by Oshodin and her family. Oshodin, a 40-year-old bookkeeper for a local building products distributor, had worked with TUMC's Housing Management Services program for more than six months. With guidance from the United Methodist-affiliated agency, she had been able to clear her credit and save the money to buy her first home.

Oshodin sat on the porch with her son Telson, 13. When Dunn and Jones approached, Telson's eyes welled up with tears. The young boy stood silently, shaking, with tears streaming down his cheeks. Without hesitating, Dunn walked over to the boy and hugged him.

Oshodin stood next to her son with her hand on his shoulder. "He just loves you," she said.

When Oshodin cut the ribbon and opened the door, she screamed with excitement. There aren't many defensive players in the National Football League who can get their arms around Dunn when he is on the field, but in Oshodin's newly furnished living room he was an easy target. Oshodin wrapped both arms tightly around Dunn and hugged.

"They told me at work not to squeeze you too hard," she said jokingly.

"I want to praise the Lord with my whole heart for all the blessings he has bestowed on my family," Oshodin said. "Next, let me thank Warrick Dunn, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa United Methodist Centers and especially Janet Richards from the TUMC Housing office, who guided me through the application process.

"With God's help, I was able to attain my goal of home ownership. The generosity of you all will help my dreams go forward."

Dunn himself has overcome obstacles to achieve his dreams in life. Raised in Baton Rouge, La., by a single mother, Dunn was the oldest of six children. When his mother was murdered, he took over the role of parent for his siblings. He went on to become a football star at Florida State University and has had a standout first season with the Buccaneers.

"When you look at this young man's history and all the barriers he has overcome," Jones said, "he has never forgotten where he has come from."

Posted January 19, 1998
Copyright © 1998 The American News Service

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