Margate, Fla. - Neighbors stared in awe outside of Terella Brown’s home, wondering who snuck into the U.S. Army soldier’s yard while she was at work. A troupe of “elves” wearing green shirts and Santa hats arrived with a bucket truck, thousands of LED lights and energy-efficient décor to surprise the Brown family with a winter wonderland.
“This is truly going to be a Christmas to remember,” exclaimed Brown upon arriving to the festive scene. “We always take pictures out here, but now we have this behind us that we'll display for years.”
The holiday makeover was made possible by Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) employees who coordinated with the Florida National Guard and volunteered their evening to decorate the soldier’s home this year.
When Brown arrived home with her four daughters and two grandsons, ages spanning from 27 to seven months old, FPL welcomed them with open arms and personalized gifts. The atmosphere was especially enchanting for Brown’s four-year-old grandson who was jumping for joy, anticipating his upcoming birthday celebration in the adorned home.
In the 12 years she’s lived here, Brown has never decorated her home for the holidays. The single mother focused on spreading holiday cheer in a different way: each year she and her daughters adopt a family in need and shower them with gifts and homecooked meals. This year, the tables turned and Brown found herself on the receiving end of a heartwarming gesture.
“She’s always helping the less fortunate,” one of her neighbors said. “She truly deserves this. It makes me so happy to see her honored.”
After several deployments with the Army National Guard, Brown remains an active member running the 138th Transportation Company, a medium-truck company within the Florida National Guard Unit. During the pandemic, her unit was assigned to support Florida’s COVID-19 response on the southwest coast.
“When everyone comes together, we can really make a difference in people’s lives. It feels so good to give back, especially during this time of year, to make a veteran happy,” Shashayne Maxwell, an FPL employee who volunteered for the makeover, said. “It’s great to see the look on their faces when they come home, so surprised and happy that someone thought of them.”
The holiday makeover is an annual tradition for FPL, which gives back to local heroes for their incredible commitment to the nation and their communities. As the holiday season unfolded, the magic of these community-led initiatives spread, touching the hearts of eight veterans across Florida for the 16th year in a row.
From the panhandle to South Florida, FPL volunteers surprised veterans and their families with festive makeovers, transforming homes into beacons of hope and celebration.
Among the recipients was U.S. Navy medic veteran Victoria Le who, after years of global humanitarian missions now resides in St. Augustine with her family, eagerly awaiting the holiday season.
In Panama City, retired Naval Officer Marcelo Centaure was left without words when he saw his home.
“A little overwhelmed and a little speechless,” Centaure said. “This morning I was looking at the house thinking, boy, how I am going to decorate that, and I come home and it’s done, and this is our first Christmas here.”
The holiday cheer extended to the Space Coast, where a Purple Heart Army veteran, Marc Gray, and his family were honored. Gray suffered injuries in Operation Iraqi Freedom after running over an improvised explosive device (IED), which sent him to the hospital where he met his wife, Lyndsay, a radiology tech who cared for him as he recovered from his wounds.
In Sarasota, jet engine mechanic Rob Kehs, known as the “unsung hero” for veterans, was recognized for his ongoing service. After serving in the U.S. Navy from 1985 to 1989, Kehs dedicated himself to helping fellow soldiers.
He’s the vice president of SRQ Vets, an all-veteran, all-volunteer organization, and volunteers with Goodwill's Veteran Services team to help other veterans in need. He was recently named Community Ambassador of the Year for his veteran services.
Pensacola welcomed Navy veteran Anthony Riley, who, despite retirement, continues to embody a commitment to service, supporting his extended family through medical challenges. Riley was stationed on the USS John C. Stennis, the seventh of the Nimitz-class of nuclear-powered supercarriers in the Navy and was the only soldier to reach second class in his department.
Army veteran Sandra Antor, a night nurse and full-time caregiver for her mother and four young children, found holiday joy in The Acreage.
In Port Charlotte, Army Staff Sgt. Pamela Johnson was surprised with a bright display as well. Like Brown, she’s an active member of the Florida National Guard serving as a supply sergeant. When she’s not working, she is the primary caregiver for her son, Casey, who has faced several medical challenges over the past year.
“I can't even think of the words of how grateful I am, it's so beautiful and everybody coming together, it just makes me feel really special,” Sgt. Johnson said. “I love that it happened with my boy here, so he gets to see the special things that come with serving.”