Wish Book

Family living in decrepit mobile home has big dreams — and big needs

Elsa Petit and her son Jaime,13, and daughter Sara Padilla,14, pose for the photo at their mobile home in Miami.
Elsa Petit and her son Jaime,13, and daughter Sara Padilla,14, pose for the photo at their mobile home in Miami. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

The trailer home where Elsa Petit and her two children live in northwestern Miami is too small for the family’s big dreams.

The children — Sara, 14, and Jaime Padilla, 12 — want to be FBI agents so they can “solve complicated cases” and “help people.” And they are serious about it.

Sara is a member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corp at Booker T. Washington High School. Now in the ninth grade, she plans to study criminology and law at the University of Florida.

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How to help: Wish Book is trying to help this family and hundreds of others in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.

Jaime, who’s in the seventh grade at Horace Mann Middle School, is a Boy Scout and said he hopes to go to Harvard “because to get into the FBI, you have to go to a good school.”

Standing next to a refrigerator that works only every once in a while, in a tiny kitchen where the rickety cabinets barely hold up the sink, Petit listened to their big dreams and smiled.

“Yes, Jaime. But remember that to go to Harvard and then the FBI, you have to bring up your grades,” she told her son. Everyone laughed and Jaime muttered, “I know, I know.”

The inspiration for the Padilla siblings’ desires to become federal law enforcement agents comes from the TV series “Criminal Minds,”which they watch on an old TV that has no remote control because it has lost several buttons. They know the details of most of the shows and can talk about the personal qualities they share with the characters.

Petit, a single mother, has tried to make sure that her children have time to dream and study so they can achieve their goals. But what little she earns cleaning houses and washing clothes does not go far.

“Sometimes I ask myself how we survived, because we have lived through some tight situations,” said Petit, who arrived from Honduras in 1998. “The help we receive comes from God.”

The family needs a stove and a refrigerator. The freezer does not work in the one they have. They also need to replace their old washer and dryer, which they keep on the porch of the mobile home because there’s no space inside.

The home has two bedrooms, but Petit closed one of them while she saves money to repair it. It is an old home, and the family has been working slowly to fix the walls and the roof.

“It was so bad, you could hit it and it would fall,” Petit said, proudly showing off two newly rebuilt and partially painted walls. “I had to spend everything I had on the repairs.”

The three sleep in the one working bedroom. The children share a bed, but the mattress they received as a gift several years ago is now well worn. They would like to get a new mattress.

The bedroom walls are decorated with drawings by Jaime, who likes to paint, and the school report cards of Sara, who gets excellent grades.

The repairs to the home left Petit short of money, and she could not afford the insurance or registration on her old car. It’s now more difficult to take the children to their activities, like Jaime’s Boy Scout gatherings.

“I’ll go back when my mother fixes the car,” Jaime said.

The family has always received assistance from friends, like the members of their church in Hialeah who drive them to services. When Petit could not afford $160 for Sara’s school trip to Orlando, the school helped. Jaime’s Boy Scout troop covered his trip after he was “salesman of the month” during a gift-wrapping campaign at the Dolphin Mall a year ago.

“This family deserves the help because they fight every day to get ahead. They are very humble, and I have never heard them complain about anything,” said Chris Jeong, a specialist with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization in Greater Miami, who nominated the family for Wish Book. “The gifts would change their lives drastically because, practically, there is no way they could afford the things they wish for. Most of their appliances are failing.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a program that pairs children and teenagers with adult mentors. The goal is to provide the youngsters with adults who can serve as guides and models and look out for their interests.

Jeong recalled that Petit came to the organization six years ago, looking for help with the children’s homework.

“She is a fearless mother who is always trying to get her children involved so they can get the best out of our program,” he said.

Petit said the program has been immensely helpful to her family because the mentors take the children to sports and cultural events, as well as helping with homework.

“It helps me because their Big Brother and Big Sister do things with them that I can’t do,” she said. “It’s not possible for me to give them gifts, to go out to restaurants with them, to take them any place. Thank God they understand.”

Despite the difficulties the family faces, Petit hopes that her children’s dreams “will be the wings” that take them to a better future. For Jaime and Sara that future, aside from careers as FBI agents, includes a house for their mother.

READ MORE: How Wish Book helped people in 2015

“So, our plan is that Jaime and I want to build a house for the three of us, with three stories. The first will be for my mother,” Sara said.

“The second for Sara and the third for Jaime!” her mother and brother shout, finishing Sara’s sentence. It is another of their dreams, and they know the words by heart.

How to help

Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.