From the outside, the house Yolanda Williams shares with her seven children looks just like the others in the quiet, gated Cutler Landings neighborhood in Homestead. A Christmas wreath hangs on the door. The small yard is well-manicured. A barbecue grill and a rubber kickball sit out back.
But step inside, walk past the living room cases overflowing with the kids’ academic awards, take a peek into the bedrooms, and there lies the heartbreaking evidence of the Williams family’s hard-knock life.
There are no beds. Just mattresses on the floor, covered in mismatched sheets and faded, frayed comforters.
Eighteen-year-old Darius, a math whiz at Homestead High headed to the Air Force, sleeps on one mattress with 8-year-old Wayne. Seventeen-year-old Kayla, who dreams of attending Bethune-Cookman University, shares a room with 13-year-old Diana, an honor roll student and basketball player at Mandarin Lakes K-8 Academy. Six-year-old Shalonda shares a mattress with 5-year-old Sharhonda. And 3-year-old Joshua sleeps with Mom.
They have no rugs. Their walls are bare, except for their crayon drawings and a Student Pledge poster their mother makes them read every morning before heading to school.
Not that any of the kids are complaining. They’ve learned better. Their mother reminds them they are blessed to have a roof over their heads and food on the table, even if they have to sleep on the floor. If she has to turn off the air conditioning to save money, she tells them they are blessed to have paper to fan themselves with.
They’ve grown accustomed to cheap fun: hotdogs on the grill, kickball, tag, singing, dancing, drumming on buckets, cooking, hair and nail makeovers.
They don’t bother asking for cellphones, Xboxes, and iPads because they know how much it hurts their mother that she can’t afford such luxuries. But the Williams kids do confess that atop their Christmas wish list are bunk beds, bedding, and towels — preferably in purples and pinks for the girls and red and black (Heat colors) for the boys. They are also in desperate need of a desktop computer and printer to do their homework, so they don’t have to rely on neighbors and the public library.
Williams, 36, is a cafeteria worker at Mandarin Lakes K-8 Academy and does babysitting on the side. The two fathers of the children are not involved, so she scrapes by with help from a forgiving landlord, generous neighbors and government aid. The past three months have been particularly hard because she broke her hand and was required to take medical leave. She is eager to get back to work when school resumes Jan. 7.
The kids at school know her as “Miss Nicole (her middle name)’’ and she constantly asks the students to show her their report cards. She scolds them when their grades slip.
Williams concedes she made many poor life choices since her days as a cheerleader and junior varsity basketball player at Southridge High. She got pregnant at 18, got a fast-food job to help pay the bills, had a few more kids, and “I’ve been trying to pick myself up since then. But every time I take two steps forward, I get knocked eight steps back. But I keep going. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.’’
She is doing her best to make up for mistakes and insisting her children excel in the classroom and aim for college degrees.