A man named Paul called a woman named Emanoel on Monday with a crazy idea.
Emanoel Thermitus, a single mother of three sons, had been kicked out of a rental house in Golden Gate Estates in mid-April when detectives learned her landlord did not actually own the foreclosed home in whch she was living.
Having spent $3,000 — most of her savings — to rent a house she couldn't live in, Thermitus and the boys packed up their belongings and began spending evenings at a public park, scrambling to find shelter after dark. They were no longer allowed in the house but had nowhere else to go.
On Saturday, North Naples resident Paul Conti read about the family in the Daily News and thought about a home of his own. The property he'd bought in a foreclosure sale years earlier would be perfect for them, he thought, and so on Monday, Conti handed a key to a stranger and let her move into his empty house.
"It's still a shock to me sometimes," Thermitus said Thursday. "The first night, I couldn't sleep because I was so happy."
After years of apartment living, it is the first time Thermitus and her sons — Delwin, 13, Danley, 12, and Dylan, 9 — have lived in a single-family home.
"I always wanted to stay in a good neighborhood in a little house with a little backyard," she said, "but now I have a huge house with a big backyard. And a front yard. It's unbelievable for someone to do that."
Thermitus had first wanted to move earlier this year when it became apparent that the town house she had lived in for two years was no longer suitable for her growing children. Neighbor boys only slightly older than her sons, she said, had been in trouble with the law.
The family moved out and found a three-bedroom house on Third Avenue Northwest at the beginning of April, but in a week's time, a Collier County sheriff's deputy had come to the door and told her the landlord, 21-year-old Yoandry Leiva, had no legal rights to the home.
Authorities arrested Leiva, accusing him of fraudulently renting out two houses. He remains in the Naples Jail Center on bonds totaling $80,000.
With no money for a new place, Thermitus took her sons to a public park each night until 10, when they would look for a place to stay. She didn't tell them what was going on.
"I let them be a kid," she said. "I went through this alone, because I feel bad for them."
At the park, the boys played basketball and tennis for hours.
"It was kind of fun," Delwin said.
After reading the story, Thermitus' co-workers and church friends told her they wished they had known, and asked what they could do to help. Daily News readers called offering to buy the family groceries and furniture.
Conti said he thought of his extra house, which he had bought with plans to get renters but never really got around to.
"The article just killed me to read, that someone would do that to her," he said of her former landlord. "She's one of the most deserving people I've ever met."
In their new one-story home on White Boulevard, portraits of the family hang on either side of a sliding-glass door that leads out to the pool. A photo of Thermitus' graduation from Lorenzo Walker sits on a hexagonal side table.
A nurse by trade, her plan is to save enough money to be able to rent the house from Conti. Then, she says, it will be her turn to pay it forward.
"What happened to me can happen to other people in the future," she said. "I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can to have the ability to help somebody else."