Tracie Boykin and Shareda Duckworth received the keys to their new homes in south St. Petersburg by completing the Habitat for Humanity program.
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Habitat for Humanity started this Monday off with a bang! Home dedication numbers 772 and 773, along with two elated single mothers, had keys in hand before noon. All eyes were on Tracie Boykin and her 16-year-old son Jadarius at the 9 a.m. dedication, and Shareda Duckworth and her 10-year-old were next in the spotlight at 10 a.m.
Boykin is a single mother who has worked as a Walgreens Pharmacy Technician for six years. She came to Habitat after struggling with their living situation for the last two years.
Her apartment had mildew issues that made Jadarius sick. Boykin’s car broke down multiple times, and shootouts happened on the property while they were home. The walls were very thin, making it hard for them to rest because their upstairs neighbors never slept.
Boykin said her son is the reason why she kept trying to get into the program after being turned down a few times.
“Because I was nervous. I don’t like to be told no, but I was told no at first until I got it together, and they accepted me,” Boykin shared.
Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties President and CEO Mike Sutton explained that the program requires future homeowners to complete 350 sweat equity hours. In those hours, program participants help build their home or one for another family, becoming an active part in making their homeowning dreams a reality.
“So, Tracie, we are so proud of you. You have worked so hard to get to today,” Sutton said, acknowledging her 364.5 sweat equity hours.
Sutton also explained that each program participant must complete 32 homebuyer education classes, which teaches everything one needs to know about being a successful homeowner, such as fire and home safety, home repair, and all the financial requirements of owning a home.
Habitat for Humanity homes are purchased by the homeowner with zero percent interest mortgages, which is a tremendous saving for the borrower, especially now since rates are close to 7.5 percent.
Sutton said Habitat for Humanity focuses on putting families in affordable homes and alleviating the stress of ever-rising rents. “And we believe that the best way to build generational wealth and the best way to really establish roots in a community is through being able to own your own home.”
The Boykins’s home was sponsored by Michael and Carolina Holtz, who were on hand to hand them their keys.
“Mike and I are thrilled,” exclaimed Carolina Holtz. “I actually am bursting with joy to be here today for Tracie and Jadarius, for all the hard work that you did.”
It was a long and arduous road for Boykin from the time she applied to being accepted to working the program. She thanked the Habitat for Humanity family for encouraging her when she wanted to throw in the towel.
“Even when I wanted to give up, y’all didn’t know those emails kept me in here,” she stated. “When I wanted to give up at the end, they kept pushing me, and I thank everybody for everything. I am very grateful and thankful.”
“I want to thank everybody else, too, because I actually put my blood, sweat, and tears into this house,” said Jadarius, announcing that he would be throwing many parties. “I want to thank y’all for pushing her. She’d been talking about it for the longest, ready to get in this house. But it’s been a journey, so thank you.”
“Every choice that I make in life, I try to make those choices with my son and our future in mind, so that motivates me to stay focused and always step outside my door making the best choices that I can,” said single mom Shareda Duckworth.
She definitely made the right choice when she signed up for the Habitat for Humanity program. In under two years, she is the proud owner of a brand-new home she helped to build.
Her living situation had become unbearable. She and her son RJay were dealing with pest issues, faulty pipes that leaked and shady repairmen that would fix one problem but cause the next. At one point, their entire home was completely flooded after a pipe burst.
Duckworth found herself going into her savings to pay for home repairs, so she could continue to pay rent and put food on the table. Now those dark days are behind her as of Monday, Oct. 24, when she received the keys to her new home in south St. Pete.
Duckworth smashed the required 350 sweat equity hours with 410.5, but it was initially challenging. She was a nervous wreck on her first day because she’d never used a hammer before.
“I bent about a dozen nails, but by noon you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t a construction worker!”
Like Boykin, Duckworth purchased her home with a zero-percent interest loan and took the 32 homebuyer education classes, where she learned how to be a responsible homeowner.
“Most importantly, she learned she has to make that mortgage payment on time every month, right,” Sutton jokingly asked Duckworth.
Her new home sits across the street from where 44 new townhomes will be built utilizing a partnership between Habitat and the City of St. Petersburg.
“The City of St. Pete has been an amazing partner,” stated Sutton. “Mayor [Ken] Welch knows the importance of affordable homeownership and affordable housing, and we’re very thankful for that.”
In addition to the city, the Duckworths’ home was made possible through the generosity and support of sponsors Steve and Nancy Westphal.
Duckworth encourages anyone needing a home to apply for the Habitat for Humanity program.
“Like I didn’t think I would get approved. I didn’t think I would qualify. I didn’t think I’d be standing here today,” she said. “Just take the first step to do it.”
She is looking forward to watching RJay ride his new bike — provided by Kids Pedal Power — down the street without being afraid, having family dinners and spending time making memories in their new home.
“Our future will be different because we don’t have to worry when we close our eyes at night. That uncertainty of if we will have to move because our rented home is going to be sold.”
At all the home dedication ceremonies, the homeowner is presented with a Bible, which is symbolic of having all of life’s answers found between its two covers, and a hammer representing the sweat equity hours that went into building a Habitat for Humanity home.
Congratulations to the Boykin and Duckworth families!