On the morning of his first birthday, little sleepyhead Kai Lyles got something many kids take for granted.
A room all to himself.
And while, at his age, Kai isn’t likely to remember this step up from the cramped apartment his family has been living in, dad Oscar Lyles won’t forget the day he and his partner became owners of a newly renovated house, courtesy of Jackson County taxpayers.
“It’s big, it’s spacious — I’m excited about it!” 22-year-old Oscar Lyles said Thursday as local officials toured the three-bedroom bungalow near the 3500 block of Woodland Avenue.
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A few minutes earlier, County Executive Frank White answered the prayers of the Lyleses and another needy family in a ceremony at the Nutter Ivanhoe Neighborhood Center on Kansas City’s East Side.
In addition to the Lyleses — alongside Oscar and Kai were Kai’s mother, Jasmine Fluker, and Oscar’s 15-year-old brother, Robert — White awarded a renovated house in the 4400 block of Park Avenue to Dyon Holman and her son, Derrion.
White’s predecessor, Mike Sanders, began the Constructing Futures home giveaway program in 2009. And just as in past years when Sanders was the emcee, White surprised the unsuspecting families as a crowd waited eagerly to experience what many consider the feel-good moment of their year.
When the Lyleses and Holmans entered the room, they knew they were in the running for free houses. But not until White turned to them with a big smile did they realize they’d been selected.
“In the words of Oprah Winfrey,” White said, “You get a house! And you get a house! So why don’t you come on over and get keys to your new home?”
Dyon Holman wept in her chair quietly, as Derrion beamed. Only later, as he walked inside their new bungalow with a big red bow on the front door, did the tears stream down the 8-year-old’s cheeks.
Not all that long ago, Dyon Holman lived in a homeless shelter, White said. Thanks to assistance from the social service agency Community LINC, she’s working toward becoming a nursing assistant and one day would like to own a hair salon.
Lyles had a tough upbringing that saw him spending time in foster care. Now he works at a hotel on the Country Club Plaza and became his brother’s guardian after their mother died.
“I’d like to thank all you guys,” he said and choked up. “About to cry,” he said, and then he did.
Both families will own the houses free and clear after seven years, if they fulfill the program requirements: keep the properties insured, pay real estate taxes and stay current on neighborhood association fees.
Total: About $325 a month, said program coordinator Lisa Honn.
Of the seven families previously to receive houses under the program, only one returned the keys because they weren’t able to fulfill their obligations.
The Lyleses’ 17-year-old house, owned by the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council, saw a complete renovation three years ago, so mostly it just needed cosmetic work.
The Holmans’ 102-year-old bungalow, however, had been vacant for years and was redone top to bottom. The county spent more than $108,000 on both houses and raised $13,000 for appliances, Honn said.
As part of a job-training program run by the nonprofit group Connections to Success, four ex-offenders did most of the work fixing up the properties.
The program also is aimed at bolstering struggling neighborhoods. Ivanhoe has been a focus of the program most years, as residents have worked to turn back crime and blight.
“It won’t be long,” neighborhood leader Margaret May said, “before you’ll be hearing people say, ‘We want to live in Ivanhoe.’ ”