CLINTON, Maryland — "We wouldn't have been able to do a picture like this if we didn't have heat," Dion Symonette said.
After all, he only wanted to provide the best for his family.
"It was a struggle," he said.
A struggle the divorced dad hadn't anticipated after gaining custody of all five of his children.
And juggling a demanding job that kept him away from home for long hours of the day, leaving little time to balance the needs of his sons and daughters.
The single father said, "I'd lost my job due to the hours that they were requiring me to work. And, me having kids in the home, I needed to be here with them a lot."
Symonette came up with a game plan to work several part-time jobs so he could pay the bills. But, that unstable employment wasn't enough to keep the heat on. And then, the cold of winter settled in.
"We had gone through one winter with my kids where we didn't have any heat because I couldn't afford it. We'd just sort of made do with what we had. You know, made sure everyone had put on socks and long sleeves," he said.
That was the winter of 2017. Symonette knew he needed help with heating his home to keep his family warm.
So, he reached out to the Washington Area Fuel Fund.
"To get that oil, to get that assistance meant a lot. It meant that we could sit down as a family and eat dinner and not feel uncomfortable. We could walk around the house. We could just enjoy ourselves," he said.
So far this year, the Washington Area Fuel Fund has received $755,000 in donations to help those in need. It has assisted 1,400 families across the Washington region.
"I could remember when we cut the heat on and could smell the oil, the joy that not only I felt, but just seeing my kids just so happy and excited to be warm," said Symonette.
"It really impacted my life," said the single father, "It made me feel like I was moving forward. It made me feel like there was a chance."