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Massive crew of volunteers renovates home for single mom Navy veteran

Written by Gordon Rago, Staff writer

Jun 4, 2019

A little after 9 a.m. Tuesday, Alexandra Serrano found yet another reason to jump for joy.

The home she was helping renovate on Keats Street would be getting a new washer and dryer.

Well, new-ish. The appliances had been recently donated to the Habitat for Humanity of South Hampton Roads. They were the latest on a very long list of materials — 510 items from ceiling fans to new hardwood floors to paint — used to completely redo the three bedroom ranch-style home.

Roughly 150 volunteers had descended to help out.
Brandi and her son walk into the newly renovated home for the first time.

For the last eight years, Brandi Jones has called the place home. A single mom and Navy veteran, Jones, 38, said she moved there with her son in 2011 after their apartment in Norfolk was robbed. Jones and her then-four year old were held at gunpoint and locked inside a bathroom.

"It was my ultimate goal to get my son out of a bad situation," Jones said. She spent several months working to build up her credit while looking at houses in the area. She now works as a manager at Portfolio Recovery Associates, a bill collection agency in Norfolk. None appealed to her — until she and her son Deon came across the Keats Street listing and went to take a first look.

"Before I could even stop, my son was out of the car and in the backyard," Jones said. 

But the home built in 1996 needed work. Last year, by happenstance, Jones was leaving a nearby Walmart and noticed the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2498 had a table outside. One man, Gary Dunbar, was wearing a hat from the Navy seabees, the same construction battalion she was in for three years.

The two got to talking. Jones made a donation and their conversation turned to her being a homeowner. She told Dunbar how her home needed new cabinets, windows and toilets. 

Dunbar took the information to his post. The chapter had recently partnered up with the Hampton Roads Realtors Association's Have a Heart program and the Habitat for Humanity chapter here to help veterans who need work on their homes. They chose Jones and applied for a $25,000 Home Depot community grant. 

On Tuesday, Jones' front yard was filled with construction materials. Keats Street was lined with cars. Volunteers from Home Depot, the VFW, the realtors association and others had turned out to lend a helping hand. They raked and mowed the backyard, painted the back shed red, tore out old appliances and ripped up carpeting. 

"Hey guys, I have a steamer for that if you need it!" Serrano shouted to a group of people using a sponge to remove rooster-themed wallpaper from the kitchen wall. Soon the home would sport all new windows, hardwood, luxury vinyl plank floors and new kitchen appliances. 

Volunteer Beth Tanner prepared a bedroom ceiling for a new coating of paint. She likened the day to TV shows where people get their homes renovated and finally get to see the completed work in a big reveal when a truck or bus moves out of the way.  

For Jones, who now lives there with her two sons, there'd be no big surprise. She hung out all day with volunteer crews as they worked, lending a helping hand where she could. 

When she got there first thing in the morning, she broke down in tears watching the many people she didn't know working on her home. Some put together a new backyard grill for her — she loves to cook out. 

What will her first night in the new home will be like?
"I'm just going to shout and praise Him," Jones said. 


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