TAMPA Apryl Wilcox hasn’t been allowed in her house all week.
She stopped by for a few minutes Tuesday evening and was shocked to find a U-Haul truck parked in front of the house, filled with all her belongings. The front door was wide open, and she could see the floors had been torn up.
“I thought they were just going to be doing some minor home repairs,” Wilcox said, standing in the front yard and watching workers bustle in and out.
Tonight, Wilcox and her 11-year-old daughter, Miracle, expect to see their newly refurbished home for the first time.
Volunteers from Ybor City’s Relevant Church worked all week on Wilcox’s 67-year-old house, which is east of Ybor. They sanded and refinished the original hardwood floors, installed new tile, replaced all the furniture and appliances, and enclosed the front porch.
“This is a wonderful, beautiful thing that they are doing,” Wilcox said.
Every Mother’s Day for the past seven years, church members have done a home makeover for a family in the Ybor City area. Typically it involves a single mother – or grandmother – who owns her own house and needs a hand, said lead Pastor Paul Wirth.
“Here’s a mom that on Mother’s Day needs something special,” he said.
Wilcox had Miracle when she was 17 years old. She was born prematurely, at about 24 weeks.
Miracle basically “died in the delivery room,” Wilcox said. Doctors at Tampa General Hospital saved her, though the baby had to have seven surgeries, Wilcox said. When Wilcox regained consciousness after the emergency birth, her mother and godmother already had named the infant, she said. It was the perfect fit.
Now “her Miracle” is a normal, high-energy fourth grader, Wilcox said. She wears funky glasses and loves reading. Her favorite colors are orange, yellow and green.
After Wilcox had Miracle, she went back to school and earned a high school diploma. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida last year, and is working on her master’s in behavioral analysis.
She works full-time at a center for people with developmental disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy and Down syndrome.
“Her story is just a beautiful story,” Wirth said.
When they returned, Wirth said, they realized they could do the same sort of work in Tampa.
“For us, we don’t do overseas missions,” he said. “We’ve adopted our city as our mission.”
The church collaborates with B.T. Washington Elementary School, which nominates a student for the makeover every year.
The school always tries to pick a mother who is very involved with her child’s education, said Assistant Principal Jamie Whitlow. And the family has to own or be working toward owning their own home, which is a challenge in the neighborhood.
When Whitlow announced at a faculty meeting that Wilcox and Miracle were getting the makeover this year, everyone was excited, she said. All of the teachers know Miracle and her mom and her grandmother.
“It’s a good family, and it’s such a good feeling to give back,” Whitlow said.
Some of the faculty will be at the house when Wilcox and her daughter return there tonight.
Wilcox has been living in her house, in a neighborhood off 50th Street near an Interstate 4 overpass, for about eight years. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom house is the perfect size for the small family. It has a big yard and is on a quiet street.
But it needed some work, Wirth said.
More than 100 volunteers from the church put in 12- to 14-hour days all week to complete the home in time for the 5 p.m. unveiling. Wirth estimated they did about $80,000 worth of work and collectively put in more than 2,000 hours.
Local businesses donated the big items, such as tile, paint and furniture, Wirth said. Their employees also helped with the labor.
Volunteers renovated the kitchen and both bathrooms. The church hired a landscape architect to work on the yard and the exterior of the house. The deck is repainted, there is a new patio set and gas grill, and a little herb garden is planted on the side of the house.
So many volunteers signed up to work that the church had to send some of them out on other jobs. Groups will do yard makeovers for one of Wilcox’s elderly neighbors and two staff members at B.T. Washington Elementary.
“This is one of the largest projects we’ve ever done,” Wirth said. “But we have the volunteers and support of the community, so it will be done.”
Wilcox and Miracle stayed with family members throughout the week while their house was torn apart. Miracle, like her mother, only was allowed to see glimpses of the work the volunteers were doing.
Wirth briefly took Miracle inside to see what workers were doing to her bedroom. The girl’s jaw dropped when she saw the bare white walls and furniture shoved into the middle of the room. Wirth bent down and promised Miracle when she came back, the room would be fixed up into something special just for her.
The church asked Miracle and her mom what their favorite colors are and what kind of furniture they like.
“I want her to drive up to the house, walk in and go, ‘Wow,’” Wirth said. He could tell they both were excited to get inside and see what everyone had done.
Wilcox is so touched by the help she has received that she plans to volunteer with the church for next year’s makeover, she said.
It was the perfect Mother’s Day present.
“I couldn’t have picked a better gift myself,” she said.