PALMETTO -- Joy filled Julianne Jennings' voice as she talked about the people -- her older sister and her neighbors -- who helped her repair her new home.
Her eyes crinkled behind glasses as she spoke about the love and kindness she experienced.
Jennings, 54, moved to Palmetto from Italy several weeks ago. She had planned on getting married in Italy but after four years with her fiance there, the relationship had imploded and Jennings had nothing left there.
"I had left my Ph.D program. I lost my car. I had no place to return to," Jennings recalled as she sat in her tidy new mobile home Monday. "I was just down and out and I only had two suitcases of clothing and I just didn't know what I was going to do. I really had thoughts of just killing myself. I lost everything."
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That's when Jennings' sister, Lorraine Baker, told her to come to Florida and live with her and her husband Steven Baker in Country Lakes Villages II. Baker, a 58-year-old registered nurse, was able to secure a loan for Jennings to get back on her feet and the sisters soon began looking for a place for Jennings.
While on a walk, Jennings stumbled into a home in Country Lakes Villages I that needed a lot of work. It had leaking skylights and rotting floors.
"I saw potential in all of that," Jennings said, her eyes bright.
Baker sat quietly nearby as Jennings shared the story. Jennings said Baker saved her life.
"I appreciate it, it's really nice," Baker said. "I'm glad I was blessed to be able to help her."
Jennings was so moved by her sister's support that she penned a
letter to the Herald about the past few weeks. Little did she know, it would spur on even more help during this difficult time.
Walter Hull, who lives a few houses down from Baker and her husband, read the piece in the newspaper. The 68-year-old retired information technology specialist reached out to two neighbors, Mike Gervascio and John Althouse.
"I said I was touched by it and I said 'I'd like you guys to help me with this house,'" Hull recalled.
Getting to work
The men decided to pay it forward and laid out a brand new floor with trimmings for Jennings in a day. Another man, Aubrey Martin, fixed the ceiling and painted. Baker's husband has also helped greatly.
"When I see other people reaching out to help other people and, there's a way that I can reach out and help them also, that's what we're taught to do by our religious teachings," said Hull, who is a member of the United Methodist Church. "I just said, 'Okay -- no questions asked.' It's wonderful to be able to help someone else."
Jennings, who is now rebuilding her life, is currently waiting for interviews for a possible teaching role. Her eyes crinkled again as she thanked her sister, and those who have helped her pave this new path.
Her struggles have been great, but not impossible, she wrote recently to the Herald.
"I call this 'The House that God Built' because not only was it an act of kindness motivated from above, but others came on board," Jennings said.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.