Theresa Cokley has been dreaming for years about having a Christmas meal in her dining room.
The Baltimore mother of three has been living in a home without adequate heat for more than two years, and Monday morning she received a gift she had spent countless nights praying about. BGE HOME and the Baltimore Ravens delivered and installed a brand new heating system for Cokley and her family.
"We haven't had a winter where we were able to eat dinner at our dining room table at all because it's been too cold," Cokley said. "We've been eating in our bedrooms."
Cokley didn't have the financial resources to replace her home's heating system, and was selected by the United Way as the recipient for the BGE HOME's Gift of Warmth. Her mother entered her in the contest after all of the struggles she's worked to overcome the last few years.
Cokley lives in the home with her three boys, ages 13, 9 and 7. Sometimes she also has her young niece and nephew stay with them.
During Monday's installation of the new heating system, the family was also surprised at their house by Poe and Ravens cornerback Shareece Wright. He signed autographs, took pictures with the family, played catch with the boys and delivered book bags stuffed with Ravens gear as gifts for the kids.
"This is our Christmas," Cokley said.
Since moving into the home, Cokley had gone through several attempted repairs to fix her heating system. She bought new radiators for the home and multiple components for the boiler, but the unit still had problems. She eventually had to stop using the boiler after the time she went into the basement to find flames shooting from the unit to the ceiling.
In March, she met with a contractor about installing a new heating system and making some other repairs around the home. He gave her an estimate of $8,000, and required a deposit of half in order to start the project. He started the process of framing out the basement and then disappeared, leaving Cokley still in need of heat and in an even greater financial bind.
"That was all of my savings," Cokley said. "In my mind, I'm thinking we're finally going to have a nice decent home with some heat. But it turned out to be nothing."
After getting ripped off by that contractor, Cokley pursued several different paths to get heat in the home. She looked into applying for city programs and various grants, but consistently came upon dead ends. Cokley works as a medical assistant, and she's been putting in overtime trying to save up enough money to replace their heating system.
"I was getting nowhere," Cokley said. "It was to the point where I was ready to give up my house because I didn't see an outlet financially as to how I was going to get it done. I had actually discussed with my parents staying with them until I was at least able to get a small apartment or something."
Cokley dreaded the arrival of this year's winter. She hung plastic around the windows to preserve as much heat as possible, but still had to turn on the stove to create heat and sometimes boil pots of water to draw a bath for her children.
To make life even more challenging, her middle son also has a rare heart condition and has to undergo surgery next month.
As BGE HOME installed her new furnace Monday morning, Cokley cried sitting at her kitchen table. She hugged her kids and talked about how much different this winter would be with actually having heat in the home.
And she's already eager to get to work fixing up that winter meal.
"I can't wait for all of us to have a nice, home cooked meal, and eat at this dinner table," Cokley said. "This was the best gift we could have ever received."