NORTH LAUDERDALE -- If one could paint a picture of dedication and determination, it would look a lot like Joy Stewart.
"She's more of a man than most of the men I know," son Michael Johnson, 24, said. "That's a superwoman."
Superwoman and her super grandchildren were handed the keys to a newly renovated home on Valentine's Day thanks to a group of volunteers who were shocked into action when they learned of her misfortune.
"There were times I really never thought I would make another step," Stewart said. "But you know what? I did."
The 40-something grandmother spent the last nine years fighting to keep her addicted daughter's four children together while living in a car, a truck, an abandoned house and on any concrete floor they could lay their heads, said Johnson. He went from living in his own car to preparing for graduation from Florida A&M University in May.
Stewart went to New York to get the grandchildren out of the foster care system. They returned to North Lauderdale, but before long the ordeal left her jobless, homeless and almost penniless, living on $360 per month because the New York foster case disqualified her from getting any assistance in Florida.
The need to provide for granddaughter Keneaka, now 7, and grandsons Ronique, 8, Neiko, 9, and Naquan, 12, has kept her going.
"Every one of them was born with [health] issues," Johnson said. "The only medicine we have is love."
At one point, Stewart and her grandchildren were living out of a car parked behind a store. She collected rainwater so the kids could brush their teeth before going to school.
Broward Sheriff's Deputy Ed Ragauskas knew one of the children from North Lauderdale Elementary and learned about the family's predicament in early December.
"I found out she was living at this new address that was totally decimated. It was a shock to me, obviously," he said. "I came in, saw the conditions and knew we had to do something. We weren't here to be the bad guys and take the kids away from her. We're here to help her."
That's when Broward Sheriff's Detective Lisa Sokol and others got involved.
"We sat down [with Stewart] and talked about her story and what got my heart was she was the most humble person you'd ever meet in your life," Sokol said.
Before long, merchants were donating food and toys for Christmas, plus appliances and furniture. Rebuilding Together of Broward County and the South Florida-based "Designing Spaces" television show teamed up to renovate a foreclosed house that a sympathetic acquaintance had signed over to Stewart. The mortgage lender forgave the debt, so Stewart owns the house free and clear.
"I'm somewhere between Cloud Nine and infinity," Stewart said upon seeing her new home for the first time Thursday.
Her oldest, Naquan, was grateful for the simple things.
"I can actually sleep in my own bed, by myself, and have my own space and my own covers," he said.
The next challenge for Stewart and her young family may be just getting used to living an ordinary life.
"With perseverance you get results," she said. "Perseverance."
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