When Marcy Garcia and her younger siblings came home from school one afternoon in September, they couldn’t believe what they saw in their front yard.
They found their mattresses, scorched by an electrical fire, stacked on the lawn in front of the modest, two-bedroom Allapattah home. The blaze sparked in the single bedroom Garcia shares with three younger sisters and a brother — charring beds, dressers, clothes, books, a television, a Playstation and art supplies. The damaged walls in the bedroom wall still stood, but the flames had claimed much of the kids’ belongings.
Garcia, 16, was cooking dinner for her siblings one recent evening as she revisited the shock of that day — the disbelief when her mother, Zenaida Soto, told her a fire had broken out in their room, and the pain of seeing her father, Leonel Garcia, salvage what he could from the damage.
“The day was going great,” Garcia said. “Then when I got home, I couldn’t go into my own room.”
Thinking of that afternoon brings tears to the children’s eyes. Yet in a moment of composure beyond her years, the youngest girl, 7-year-old Yanislacey Garcia, had an observation you might expect from her oldest sister.
“This isn’t the first time things go bad,” she said. “We’ll get back up.”
Her brother Leonel, 12, had his arm around his sister as she spoke. That’s how it goes in this house. When one of them feels down, all the others lend a comforting hand . They invent games to play with each other outside. They find joy in the smallest moments, from Garcia’s cooking arroz con salchicha for her siblings to singing karaoke in the living room. Before a recent move into a larger townhouse in Richmond West — after long-awaited affordable housing voucher — the four girls and one boy shared two bunk beds, two dressers and one closet. Even if it isn’t always easy, the tight space had led to tight bonds among the kids.
Leonel, named after his father, likes drawing, video games and professional wrestling. His favorite in the ring: John Cena. He’s drawn portraits of the WWE star, but he needs new art supplies.
“If I had art supplies to draw, I would be an artist,” said Leonel, nicknamed “Macho” since he’s the only boy among five.
Yolievette, 10, is known as the quiet one — but all it takes is a good song to break the shell. She’s the karaoke queen who dreams of being a musician and dancer. She, Yanislacey and 14-year-old Barby, like to choreograph dances together to pop songs.
“I want to learn how to play guitar,” she said, her cheeks still a little rosy from when her mom proudly played a cellphone video of her singing.
The family’s resilience, anchored by Soto’s positive attitude, is what inspired Sophonie Castin, a counselor at Goodwill Industries who worked with Soto this year, to nominate the family for the Miami Herald Wish Book. Soto briefly worked at Goodwill before health issues forced her to take leave for so long that Goodwill could no longer employ her because she did not qualify for an extended absence. Even though her short tenure at the company prevented her from taking a long leave, Soto soldiered on.
“She was going through a lot,” Castin said, who admires Soto’s relentless dedication to her kids. “She’s a strong woman. She really blew my mind. Everything she does is for her kids, to put them in a better position.”
Soto takes no credit for her family’s drive toward a better life. She says she draws her strength from her babies, who surprise her every day.
“They are so united,” she said, smiling as she look at her children sitting on their bunk beds.
The unity was tangible as they shared their feelings about the fire. They would seamlessly complete each other’s thoughts.
“ We always find a way ... “ Barby started.
“ ... to manage,” Marcy continued.
“Even if it’s hard,” Leo finished.
Things started to look up days after the fire, when the family got some much-needed good news: They were receiving a Section 8 voucher for a four-bedroom townhouse in Richmond West.
“We’ve been on the waiting list for 10 years,” Soto said.
Health issues have prevented Soto and Leonel Garcia from finding regular work, making this year’s holidays more challenging. They want to give their children whatever they can to make up for what they’ve lost and to fill their new home — bedroom and living room furniture, games, and a new television. “Macho” will finally have his own room, but that means he’ll need a bed and dresser.
The kids also need desks for homework and books. The younger kids like “Katie Kazoo Switcheroo” and “Captain Underpants” stories.
Mercy, the oldest, is the writer of the family. She enjoys reading the work of Indian-born poet Rupi Kaur and Percy Jackson novels. Argumentative essays are her specialty. She’s also got her eyes toward the future — she wants to join the Air Force JROTC at her new school, Southridge Senior High. From there, she wants to springboard into the military, get a degree and become a crime scene detective.
Barby doted on her kitten Tiny, an aptly-named brown tabby, as explained that her family always bounces back, regardless of the setbacks.
“There’s always a comeback,” Barby said. “That’s why we never lose faith.”
“Never,” Marcy said. “There’s nothing we can’t handle.”
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (The most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook .