YBOR CITY — At about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Ruby Brown was allowed back in her house.
She was crying even before she made it up the steps of the front porch, and did a little dance in the doorway of each room. By the time she reached the kitchen at the back of her bungalow, she was shouting.
“This is so pretty,” said Brown, 67. “It is so nice. Fantastic.”
More than 140 volunteers from Relevant Church tore apart her 1918 Ybor City house this week as part of their annual Mother's Day project. Brown and her 10 great-nieces and great-nephews — ages 3 through 13 — stayed across the street at her sister's house while church members moved out furniture, replaced all the appliances, redid the floors and gutted both bathrooms.
None of them was allowed back inside until the big reveal Saturday evening.
“I am so thrilled,” Brown said Thursday, as she watched workers paint the trim and tidy up her yard. “God is so good, isn't he?”
This is the seventh year the members of Relevant Church, in Ybor City, have done a home rehab for Mother's Day, said Pastor Paul Wirth. Every year they choose a single mother or grandmother who owns their own house and needs some help.
Around the holidays, a church member saw a newspaper article about Brown and the 10 children she took in when their mothers weren't able to care for them, Wirth said.
She already raised her son and daughter, but she treats her nieces and nephews like they are her own, he said. And she gives them the structure and love that they need. They call her “Mama Joy.”
“When I met her I said, 'This is the lady; this is who God wants us to help,'” Wirth said.
Brown's only requests when she showed Wirth her house was that they trim a living room door that was scraping the floor, and maybe switch out some electrical outlets that didn't work, he said. Instead she got a complete home makeover estimated to cost about $50,000.
“This looks like a different house,” said 9-year-old Kayla Turk, Brown's great-niece, as she walked through the remodeled kitchen.
The five girls got a new pink and purple, princess-themed bedroom, with a “dressing room” for their vanities and closets down the hall. The five boys got a sports-themed room. Church members bought new furniture and a new television for the living room, put double sinks in the bathrooms and decorated a new playroom for the children. Volunteers also installed central heat and air conditioning.
But Brown's bedroom, previously packed with clothes and toys, was the most important makeover for Wirth.
“It's all yours,” he told her when he opened the door for her. “Nobody else's.”
Brown walked through the home first, and cried again as the children ran squealing excitedly through the house. She no longer has to worry about them tripping over cords, or forgetting that the microwave and the clothes dryer can't be plugged in at the same time.
“These kids are never going to forget what you've done,” she told the volunteers, who gathered on the back porch after she saw her new house. “God put his angels together. They came right here to this little house and made a miracle.”