This is a birthday week Lula Jobir and her son, Mussab, the birthday boy, won’t soon forget.
The brand-new homeowners received a large surprise with dozens of people on hand Wednesday morning for what Jobir expected would be one person to show her her new house. With several sponsors, representatives from the Gwinnett Habitat for Humanity and former NFL player Warrick Dunn on hand with a $5,000 check and keys to the house, Jobir was overcome with emotion.
As those guests toured his new house, Mussab stood at the front door and said softly, “It feels so real.”
An Xbox and completely stocked kitchen shelves were alongside the furnishings provided by the lease-to-own retailer Aaron’s.
The home sits on Hightower Trail in Snellville near the DeKalb County line, and this is the second time it’s been a Habitat house.
“Walking through the home, seriously, I thought I was dreaming,” Jobir said. “But to get the furniture and all that, this is more than I expected.”
Gwinnett Habitat Executive Director Brent Bohanan said 239 volunteers worked on the house for more than 1,300 hours. It’s the 132nd home built by Gwinnett Habitat, but it was originally built in 1992 as Habitat’s fifth home in Gwinnett. Bohanan said the first homeowner paid it off and moved on, but sold it back to Habitat.
“We’re just so excited to be able to recycle one of our homes and pass it on to Lula and her famly,” said Bohanan, who prayed during the ceremony and cited Psalm 127:1. “We hope that this home will be a great place that you can make a lot of memories together.”
Jobir previously lived in her sister’s Norcross apartment, but didn’t buy any furniture with her home ownership plans in the works. She was motivated to buy nice furniture because she lives there with her son and mother. Jobir and her son shared a bedroom, and she said Mussab regularly asked when he would get his own room.
“It’s just amazing what people can do for somebody else,” she said. “They don’t relate to me or anything, but they just do it out of kindness.”
Jobir credited her mother for pushing her to finish the Habitat paperwork. She finally did in a library after she took a day off from work.
In his introduction of Jobir and Mussab, who will turn 12 years old on Thursday, Dunn noted the perseverance it took to immigrate to the U.S. from Ethiopia and become a U.S. citizen in 2011. She separated from her husband many years ago, and he remains in Ethiopia.
This process was the first time she went through the process, though it’s her second attempt. When she tried the first time, Jobir worked part-time and learned that Habitat required applicants to have a full-time job. She previously worked at J.C. Penney and now she is a certified animal care tech with the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University.
“That tells you when people have a will to not just sit on their butts, but to go out and sometimes you’ve got to make things happen, even when you don’t succeed, you try again,” said Dunn, who played 12 seasons in the NFL, six with the Atlanta Falcons and six with Tampa Bay. “I think she’s an example that no matter what background, no matter the situation, you may not succeed, but try again.”
Dunn’s charity program, Homes for the Holidays, began in 1997 during his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The program is a tribute to his mother, Betty Smothers, a Baton Rouge, La. police officer, who as a single-mother of six, worked to own her own home. While working a second job as a security guard, she was killed in the line of duty and was never able to realize that dream.
Jobir’s home was the 154th home to be part of the program designed for single parents.
Dunn said he’s celebrating the charity’s 20th year by “spreading the love and my mom’s dream of home ownership to a lot of single-parent families” like Jobir and her son.
“She still has a lot of her life to live for her family,” Dunn said. “Sometimes that’s what drives her. It’s our job to provide ways of opportunity. She’s just an example. We’re going to do what it takes to become a hallmark of that American dream.”