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Dream of a new home for kids motivates a single mom

Months into her struggle to become a first-time homeowner, Kimberly Brown found out that her 15-year-old daughter was skipping school.

Brown's daughter, Steanna - nicknamed Ste-Ste - had been meeting friends at Fort Lauderdale High, then leaving on the city bus, sometimes going to the beach.

Ste-Ste flunked ninth grade.

The Herald has been chronicling Brown's quest to become a homeowner through Habitat for Humanity of Broward.

Brown, 35, a mother of four, dropped out of Dillard High School, but plans to get her high school diploma. She wanted to save her daughter from a similar fate.

She had seen enough teenage girls get pregnant and drop out. That's not the life she wanted for her two daughters.In the Brown house, college was in her daughters' immediate future. And of course, a new home.

"I tell them all the time, real men don't want women who don't respect themselves, " Brown said.

This summer, Brown sent Ste-Ste to a weeklong camp for troubled youths, called the Police Impact Program, run by the Lauderhill Police Department.

The boot camp cost $175 - money that Brown really didn't have to spare; she paid her rent late to do it.

Steanna's days at Impact, a nonresidential paramilitary program, began at 7 a.m. Each cadet, as they're called, wears blue overalls.She marched, exercised and had classes on health and drug awareness. Her evenings ended with homework and chores. She was responsible for cleaning the kitchen, washing dishes and her overalls.

Before, at home, her only chore was cleaning the bathroom.

For one assignment, she had to write a letter about a person she had hurt.

Steanna wrote about her mother.

"I appreciate many things about you. How you are forgiving. You look at my mistakes and know that when you were my age, you weren't perfect, " she said in the letter.

The Lauderhill program started three years ago after parents and organizations wanted to help children who were headed toward trouble but had not yet committed a crime.

At the end of the camp, Steanna and other cadets did a pride walk: three miles through the streets of Lauderhill, singing in cadence.

"Oh Elijah, Elijah Jane!" cadets repeated after their drill instructors.

"I think she really has turned that negative into something positive, " said Lauderhill Officer Melissa Lucas, one of drill instructors. "I think she is going to be a wonderful young lady."

For her graduation, Steanna stood in front of her family and others. "A kite rises with the wind rather than against it, " she said.

She knew better than to skip classes at Fort Lauderdale High, she said, but school had gotten boring.

Now, making the track team motivates her to stay in school - in addition to the daily push she gets from her mother, sister and two brothers."What you do in high school follows you to college, " Steanna said. "It was something that could have been avoided because I got so many chances."

Brown wants Steanna to make up the credits in school, not night classes.

"I'm going to be hard on her because she can do better, " Brown said.

Twice divorced, Brown tries to keep a tight leash on her children. Phone calls are not allowed after 9 p.m.

The oldest, Alicia, 17, a Fort Lauderdale High senior, gets extra phone time because she has that most precious of teenage possessions - a cellphone. She worked hard over the summer to get it.

Sibling rivalries are not tolerated in the subsidized Pompano Beach apartment.

"I guess I'm so mean. I'm the meanest mama in the world because I'm so hard on them, " Brown said one evening while her sons - Tyler, 6, and Major, 9, prepared for bed.

She works as a library aide at the Broward County Main Library and struggles to pay the bills. She has already deposited $1,000 into a Habitat account to pay taxes and insurance for the first year of her mortgage.

She has completed more than half of the required 500 volunteer hours helping to build a home and working in the Habitat Re-Store.

All she wants is a home and for her children to get an education.

"That's not a lot to ask for, " she says to them constantly.

Right now, it is Ste-Ste, her second-born - the extroverted teen with an affinity for poetry and an aversion to bonding with mom - who needs special attention.

While she's juggling everything, she fantasizes about decorating her new home, even though a construction crew has not broken ground yet. It is not expected to be finished for another year or so.

She was the first in her Habitat class of 36 would-be homeowners to get on a waiting list for a lot. She clapped when the news was announced in the August Habitat workshop.

"I stood up just to let them know it was me, " she said.

THE JOURNEY TO HOMEOWNERSHIP: KIMBERLY BROWN'S PROGRESS

* Required: 500 volunteer hours. Completed: 303. Brown was put on a list in August to get a lot to build her house. She could get a lot in eight to nine months and her home could be finished in six to eight months.

* Required: Work three times a month for Habitat "sweat equity" volunteer hours. On schedule.

* Required: Attend monthly workshops on topics such as how a mortgage works. On schedule.

* Attendance: Hasn't missed any monthly workshops since skipping a class in March for an uncle's funeral and a class in April for her great-grandmother's funeral.

* Required: Deposit of $125 a month into a Habitat account, up to $1,500 to pay taxes and insurance for the first year of her mortgage. On schedule. Deposited $1,000.

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