CHERRY HILL, New Jersey (WPVI) -- "Despite everything we've been through, there is a happy ending," said 23-year-old Mariah Connerly in the face of unthinkable tragedy.
In February 2021, Connerly and her now 13-year-old brother, James, lost their mother to breast cancer. Adjusting to life without her was hard, but they remained strong for the sake of their father.
By July 2021, their washer and dryer caused their house to catch fire. Displaced by the blaze, the family of three moved into a hotel in Cherry Hill.
Just as they were adjusting to their new lifestyle, everything changed again. In November 2021, Connerly's father, who suffered from sleep apnea, did not wake up one morning.
"My dad, he was, like, really there to help me out," said James Connerly. "Of course, like, everyone passes away, but I was expecting that to happen later on when I'm older and stuff."
The siblings were left feeling lost, having only each other to lean on. But soon enough, one of James' friends from school invited them to live in their house temporarily. This gave Mariah, now a senior studying law at Rowan University, the chance to think clearly about the path forward.
"I started speaking up for myself. I asked around, talked to friends," she said. "Along that time, I was able to get introduced to so many amazing men and women."
One of them was Lori Leonard, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of South/Central New Jersey.
"I got a few phone calls from people who were looking to see if Habitat for Humanity could help James and Mariah with housing," she said. "And Habitat sells homes to people, so I knew that they weren't exactly in a position to purchase a home. But I also knew that I was unwilling to push them to another agency or refer them out somewhere else. I knew that I needed to help them."
Using all of her friends and contacts, Leonard started fundraising for the siblings. Donations started funneling in through the All Things Are Possible Foundation and a GoFundMe page that has accumulated nearly $25,000.
Success was never out of the question for Leonard.
"We are going to raise the money for James and Mariah to live on the west side of Cherry Hill so James can stay in the middle school that he's in," she said. "And it was the community that helped establish a place for Mariah and James."
Now, Mariah and James have their own fully-furnished apartment filled with trinkets that evoke memories of their parents. It has allowed them to move forward and focus on the next chapter of their lives.
"These four walls is something that we can start and build our new future," said Mariah Connerly. "Build our own new area to like, not be reminded of what we've been through, but be reminded of, like, where we're going to go."
Anyone interested in learning more about Mariah and James' journey can follow their GoFundMe page.