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Family’s prospects looking up after tough times

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By Nancy Kennedy

HOMOSASSA — What a difference two years makes.

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At Christmas 2010, Rick and Amanda Williams and their four young children were at the lowest point of their lives.

They had moved to Florida from Maryland in 2008 with dreams of a better life. Rick Williams, who did flooring work, had heard jobs were plentiful. They moved to Polk County and were living the Florida dream in a fully-furnished home with a pool — and then a series of unimaginable events happened that basically left them destitute, living in storefronts and campers, with Rick working at whatever job he could to feed his family.

At one point, they lived in the Ocala National Forest and Williams traveled at 4 a.m. every morning to Homosassa to clean the Winn-Dixie, earning $40 a day, which cost him $20 a day for gas. But $20 was $20, and they needed every penny.

Through it all, they never lost hope, never lost faith. They prayed God would lead them and keep them together.

Just before Christmas 2010, Amanda Williams told the Chronicle, “It’s difficult to keep your faith when one thing after another happens and you’re always worried about how you’re going to survive. But something has always come along just when we’ve needed it.”

Rick Williams had said, “As a dad, I’m trying to support my family ... I just want my family to have everything they wish for.”

For the Williams family, their biggest wish has always been for Rick to be a cop.

This past Thursday, the 35-year-old Williams completed his final class at the law enforcement program at Withlacoochee Technical Institute and is eagerly waiting to take the state officer’s certification exam. Then he can start applying for a job.

His dream: to be a Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

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“Two years ago, we were coming through the hardest time of our lives,” Williams said recently from the Homosassa mobile home they are presently buying.

“After the story came out (in 2010), help poured in — money and food cards and gifts for the kids. It was awesome,” Mrs. Williams said.

“We were so behind, the money we got we gave to pay our back rent, but it was still really hard for a while. He was out of work until February.”

They had to move several times and they sold their gas-guzzling Suburban and bought a smaller car, which they call their “clown car.”

Williams was approved for a Pell grant and accepted into the law enforcement program in April. He attended classes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., then worked as a janitor at Citrus Memorial Health System from 5 to 11 p.m. Then he drove home to Homosassa to study and catch a few hours of sleep.

They were managing — and then Williams injured his knee while running and was on crutches and couldn’t work.

“So, we got behind again,” Mrs. Williams said. “Then we met this wonderful man, Ken Koo, who we’re buying this house from. He’s an angel from heaven. He’s owner-financing for us, and in nine years — or sooner — we will own it.”

While still attending the law enforcement academy, Williams left his job at the hospital and was hired at the Key Training Center, where he helped establish the all-male behavioral home and worked there as residential manager.

“My training with the academy allowed me to utilize what I learned about anger management skills,” he said.

After a while, his schedule and workload got too demanding and he left the Key Center for a job at Sugarmill Manor assisted living facility as the maintenance director, a job he said he loves. He still works there now as he awaits the next steps in his quest to become a lawman.

“In Citrus County, more than anywhere else, the deputies are celebrities to kids,” he said. “They look up to them, and my kids are already telling their friends, ‘My dad’s a cop. He’s going to drive me to school in a cop car.’”

Mrs. Williams said her husband has wanted to be an officer for as long as she can remember.

“I think it’s in his blood,” she said. “He likes to get involved; he likes to help people, and seeing his dreams and goals come true is so awesome. My ideal goal for him is to become a detective.”

Toward that end, Williams is planning to start working on his associate’s degree this spring.

“It’s been a struggle — everyone struggles,” he said as he reflected on the past two years. “But we always knew we would be all right as long as we’re together. At times we weren’t sure why we were going through the things that happened to us and we’ve been disappointed, but we firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. So, whatever we go through, it’s going to be OK.”

Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy can be reached at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2927.