Super Bowl blessing: New home for LA mom marks 200th time former NFL star Warrick Dunn helps single parent
INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Raymond Mouton's eyes darted around his new room, spotting gaming decals, neon signs, a gaming PC, headphones and tablet sitting on his dresser. All brand new.
But it was the bed that blew the 13-year-old away.
“When do we move in?” he asked his mother as he reached out to touch his new comforter, a smile on his face as his eyes welled with tears.
For the last five years, Raymond Mouton and his mother, Fellicia Miller, 34, have shared a bed in their small one-bedroom apartment in this Los Angeles area city. But a partnership between Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles and former NFL star Warren Dunn changed this family’s life when they were presented Tuesday with a fully furnished 3-bedroom home less than three miles from where the NFL will host its biggest game of the year this Sunday — Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium .
“I still don’t know if this is real,” an emotional Miller said after touring her new home. "To have an NFL player come visit and then bless a family like this. You know, that doesn't happen often. It's just amazing."
Miller and her son helped build the home after being accepted into the Habitat for Humanity program, which helps families who are employed with good credit but struggle to obtain home ownership. The pair thought they were doing a walk-through of the home on Tuesday when Dunn surprised them by showing the home had been fully furnished to their customized liking. He also offered a $5,000 down payment, which will make the no-interest mortgage on the home even more affordable.
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Dunn, a former running back who played 12 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, has made a habit of changing the lives of single mothers. The home presented to Miller and her son was the 200th he’s furnished and helped pay for since launching his charity focusing on housing inequality – one of the biggest issues facing Los Angeles that has worsened the city’s homelessness crisis.
“It's an amazing week to do something, an opportunity to really spread love but most importantly to make a statement,” Dunn said in an interview, noting the lack of affordable housing in the LA area and the high cost of living.
A tragic connection
Dunn, a three-time Pro Bowler, started his habit of giving back in 1997 when he played as a running back for the Buccaneers. His coach at the time, Tony Dungy, encouraged the then-rookie to find ways to support the community in Florida.
Dunn said he considered giving out checks or handing out turkeys. Then he thought about his own upbringing.
Dunn’s mother, Betty Smothers, worked as a police officer and was killed in the line of duty in 1993. Dunn, who was 18 at the time, remembers immediately becoming a father figure, helping raise his five younger siblings while attending Florida State University. It was always his mother's dream to own a home, he said.
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The tragedy echoes the one Miller and her son experienced.
Her fiancé, Raymond’s father, was shot and killed in 2007. She remembers racing to the scene and begging him to stay alive — but it was too late.
Raymond was only a few months old, and since then, she’s been raising him alone. For several years, they lived with her mother, before moving into a small one-bedroom apartment.
“It’s been tough for me. It's been really tough,” she said. “But I believe we have this connection, you know, with losing a loved one.”
Dunn said their story touched him.
“It resonated because I understand that journey,” he said. “But his mother's doing her part to create a stable environment to give him the best opportunity to be successful long term. And we want to help individuals and help push families down that path.”
Miller, who works for the Salvation Army as a program coordinator, knows how hard it is to live in the LA area and make ends meet. Throughout the pandemic, she worked to help those experiencing homelessness in LA. She said she helped about 17 people find permanent housing.
“The last two years, I was able to be a blessing to someone else,” she said. “Now, I have someone blessing me.”
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Miller said the one-bedroom home was manageable when Raymond was a child, but now he's a teen and they have “overwhelmed" the home. She’s created a makeshift closet in the living room. Christmas presents sat without a place on the couch. Kitchen cabinets are used as home storage.
“There’s no space for us at all, so for us to go from a one-bedroom apartment to this is just such an unimaginable blessing,” she said. “Everyone has their calling in life and I believe this was (Dunn’s). He’s changing families and blessing others. He’s an angel from God, that’s for sure.”
The first thing Miller hopes to do in her new home is take advantage of the new kitchen, which was filled with groceries and new cooking utensils. Raymond said he was stoked to chow down on his mom’s chicken tacos and signature macaroni and cheese, whenever he wasn’t in his room playing Minecraft or Roblox.
200 homes have opened doors for single parents
Dunn has partnered with other organizations and companies to help make it possible for 200 single parents to own a house of their own .
In Miller's case, the organization outfitted her new home with every possible detail: a living room set, lawn equipment, pots and pans — even toothbrushes in the bathroom. In total the furnishings cost an estimated $40,000 to $50,000, including about $10,000 donated just from Aaron’s. Dunn also presented Miller with a $5,000 check to help with the home’s down payment.
“It’s quite a milestone,” he said of reaching 200 homes. “This is a journey. Habitat does the build and we always say we do the fill. We don’t give a hand out, we give a hand up.”
Dunn says those selected show a willingness to work hard but just need that extra push to get over hurdles, such as having the cash for a down payment or a long enough credit history. He said the all-paid furnishings are meant to help a family get settled without the added expenses of owning a home for the first time, something that can easily get a family in debt.
Miller went through financial classes and other training, along with helping build the home over the last year with Habitat for Humanity volunteers. She will be responsible for paying the interest-free mortgage.
Erin Rank, the president of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, noted how conditions have worsened in Los Angeles for those wanting to own a home, especially amid the pandemic and a frantic housing market.
“This is the Super Bowl of housing right here,” she said with a smile. “Days like today are the most magical moments.”
Rank noted the work Habitat for Humanity has done over the years with Dunn, partnering to help families in cities across the U.S. She calls it a “mission,” not a job.
“You can see that she's worked so hard for this,” Rank said of Miller’s reaction to walking through her new home. “It was this realization of a dream that she had not just for herself but for her son. It’s like this means that she's not struggling anymore. This means that her hard work has paid off.”
Dunn agreed, explaining a home doesn’t just mean more space for a family. It’s an investment that can bring stability and financial reassurance for a single parent, something that can be passed on for generations.
“I just wanted to do something that had a lasting impact on families, something that was not just a bandaid,” he said. “This can change the whole trajectory for a family.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Super Bowl blessing: New home for LA mom marks 200th time former NFL star Warrick Dunn helps single parent