“I’m nervous. Where do I look?”
Deeanna Brown asked the WTMJ 4 news reporter for direction before her interview. Sitting in her living room that a year ago was just studs.
“This has been like planting a seed and watching a harvest in the course of a year. I’m so grateful. I get emotional thinking of all the people who have made this possible,” she said.
At just 19 years old, Deeanna Brown gave birth to her only child; a little girl she named Milan. She’s now 5 years old and has survived several heart surgeries. While in her womb, Deeanna did not know Milan had a severe birth defect.
“She’s 5 and she still can’t walk and she’s completely incontinent. She’s also half the size of most children her age,” she said.
Milan’s condition is so rare it still has a scientific name: Duplication of Q1. Most human beings are born with 46 chromosomes. In Milan’s case, one of her chromosomes is deleted while another is duplicated. She needed an ADA accessible home, but Deeanna as a young single mother could not afford one.
“My aunts have Habitat homes, so I learned from them. They’ve lived in their homes for 15 years. They’re a bit jealous of mine because now, Habitat builds homes with central air conditioning,” she smiled.
One year ago, Deeanna was accepted to be a Habitat for Humanity homeowner. The charity has been operating in Milwaukee since 1984. Hundreds of families have broken the cycle of poverty thanks to Habitat. Homeowners must have decent credit, demonstrate an ability to pay a low-interest mortgage, presently live in inadequate housing and be willing to put in hundreds of “sweat equity” hours to build their home.
“Make no mistake, Habitat does not just give away homes. It takes a lot of hard work, but it’s so worth it,” said Deeanna. “I’ve been decorating and slowly buying furniture. I moved in last Saturday. Initially I submitted my application because I was renting a two bedroom apartment and there was black mold in the basement,” she said.
Sargento sponsored Deeanna’s home. When the house was framed in June 2015, CEO Louie Gentine visited Deeanna during the blitz build (right). He brought her some gifts and walked her new neighborhood with two Milwaukee Police officers who happened to be on foot patrol. They thanked Louie and Habitat leaders for helping reduce crime in the area by providing affordable housing. Habitat has a 5-year plan to revitalize the area that historically was one of Milwaukee’s most prosperous and vibrant neighborhoods.
“The volunteers are phenomenal. The people at Sargento were amazing. I’m still in touch with Kathy (Griffey, Kiel) who said she’d help stain my porch!” she smiled.
Sargento was the first corporate sponsor of Habitat for Humanity Milwaukee in 1992. The charity’s mission aligns with our Corporate Culture: People, Pride & Progress in that it helps families find stability and security. Deeanna’s home was the 26th home Sargento sponsored in Milwaukee. Two days after her living-room interview it became the 1000th home to be dedicated by the organization. Her home on north 42nd Street was another answered prayer.
“This is like a dream. It didn’t feel real until I had to water my grass,” she laughed.
Deeanna’s kind nature and good humor shine despite the many obstacles she has faced. With Milan she has learned to take life day by day, while still looking toward the future.