For the first time this year, Shayla Howell is preparing to host her family for Christmas. She and her boys are going to string lights up on the front of their home. They're going to get a big tree.
All because she was able to purchase a home this year — fulfilling a lifelong goal of hers and giving her family the stability and space they've been missing for more than a year.
The Howells were living in a Holly Hill duplex, but lost it in a fire in July 2020. They were left with only a few disparate possessions: some clothes, a few pictures, one bed. Some people in the community donated places for them to stay short term. They found an apartment for 10 months, but then had to stay with family or friends, or in hotels.
But that's over now thanks to Homes Bring Hope, a Volusia County organization that helps families through the home-buying process.
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The Howells recently moved into a newly renovated 1950s Daytona Beach home. Now they have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a one-car garage and plans to start traditions of their own this holiday season.
"When I got the call that (Homes Bring Hope) was going to help me, I literally almost dropped my phone," said Shayla Howell, an employee at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. "I was like, 'Oh my God, this is going to happen for me … they are really going to help me.'
"I felt like God answered my call."
Homes Bring Hope is an initiative in Volusia County that helps people who are working or on federal income assistance but cannot accumulate enough wealth to buy their own home. Families can get help with the process of purchasing, renovating or building a home. The organization is poised to help 12 families by the end of 2021, and 100 by the end of 2030.
The program is a Food Brings Hope community organization. Food Brings Hope’s afterschool programs serve more than 1,500 students at 32 schools. Howell's older son participated in the program, which helped alleviate childcare issues.
"The impact of assistance through Homes Bring Hope will have a ripple effect of constructive community changes: families will be more secure; students will be in stable housing and in a consistent school zone; employers will have less disruption due to poor performance by employees impacted by housing instability," the organization explains on its website. "As levels of poverty will be alleviated, the overall community will be elevated."
Howell is the oldest of three siblings, and her parents never were able to own a home. She's the first in her immediate family to do so.
"I fought tooth and nail for this because it’s always been a dream of mine — to say I have something that is mine," she said. "Just to have a piece of history that lives on. It just means so much to me that I did this not only for me, but for my children."
Howell is a single mom to 13-year-old Devaun and 3-year-old Saj. Devaun has been setting up his room how he likes it, and is eager to get to work on decorating the home for the holidays. He likes the projectors that put designs on the side of the house.
"We never really had Christmas in our own house, that we can call our own," Devaun said. "It’s going to feel more homey … like it’s ours."
Saj, a dinosaur enthusiast, is hoping to get a T-Rex from Santa this year. Devaun is hoping for something a little more practical: a basketball hoop, after a hurricane knocked down the one they had a few years ago. With a home of their own, this might be the year for that, too.