“There’s a story in the bible,” Tonio recalls. “God told Abraham he was going to have a son. But Abraham just laughed and said, I’m too old.” True to his word, however, God did give Abraham a son, and it’s a story that reminds Tonio – God always has a plan.
Throughout their lives, both Tonio and his wife Jamesia have longed for the stability of a home – something they both lacked in childhood. Now, as parents, they want better for their kids.
If you ask Tonio and Jamesia, they’ll tell you that faith has always been the foundation for their success in life. “Faith and hard work,” Tonio says. That’s what’s always gotten them through – trusting God’s plan and following it.
Like when they took in Jamesia’s niece and nephew. It was the first year of their marriage, they were living in a one-bedroom apartment, and they didn’t know the first thing about raising kids. Still, they trusted God’s plan. Tonio and Jamesia adapted, and just as they found themselves needing more space, a three-bedroom apartment became available.
It wasn’t ideal. Living in an apartment is no life for a child – they both knew from experience. With people living directly above, directly below, and on either side of you, there’s no sense of privacy. It’s too easy to disturb your neighbors and for your neighbors to disturb you. Plus, while a one-bedroom apartment may be affordable for a young couple, the median market value rent for a three-bedroom in Fort Myers is around $1,400 a month.
“And I laughed at her” – just like Abraham laughed at God.
Then, as the couple welcomed their new son into the world, they found themselves needing even more space; more privacy.
“She told me she wanted a five-bedroom house,” Tonio says. “And I laughed at her” – just like Abraham laughed at God. “I just knew we couldn’t afford it.”
Then she mentioned Habitat. “Habitat for Humanity is always overwhelmed with applications,” Tonio says. So, he dismissed that idea too, thinking it would be just as difficult as trying to obtain a traditional mortgage.
Then one day, as he was driving home from a friendly game of basketball, Tonio came across a construction site for a new Habitat home. “That was it. In that moment, I knew it was a sign from God.”
Because of their faith, Tonio and Jamesia know that even though God has a plan, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Saving the money, putting in the hours, taking the homeownership classes – that’s a lot of work for a young family with three kids.
“There were many nights that I wanted to give up,” he says. “But we knew God was testing us…”
Then, due to COVID-19, Tonio lost his job. One of the main requirements for purchasing a Habitat Home is a proven and steady income, so without a job the homebuying process would have to be put on hold.
Not ready to give up, Tonio talked to his boss who recommended him for a similar position – but in Orlando. Tonio accepted, and for a time, he was separated from his family. However, with this new steady income and support from their Habitat counselors, they were able to stay on track with their future home.
That wasn’t the only challenge they faced, though. While working in Orlando, Tonio was exposed to COVID-19, and unfortunately, became ill. After that, “there were many nights that I wanted to give up,” he says. “But we knew God was testing us,” Jamesia adds.
Through all of that, it was their faith in God, their determination, and the continued support they received from Habitat that kept them going. “Habitat came, they helped us through the process, and now we’re here,” Tonio says.
They worked hard, they accepted God’s plan, they followed through, and in the end, they moved into that same home that originally inspired them to partner with Habitat. “If you are faithful and you show your faithfulness, God provides.” Tonio says. “Work hard, do good and have faith.”
Now, the family enjoys their newfound space – both inside their home, and around it. “It’s different when you’re in a home,” Jamesia says. “There’s more space and you’re not right on top of your neighbors.” Plus, their kids can play outside safely, the baby can sleep through the night, and everyone has their own room. They’re proud of their home, they’re proud of themselves and it shows.