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Single mother looks ahead to housewarming

To an outsider, it was just dirt, strewn over a vacant lot on a new street. But when Kimberly Brown got out of the car in May, she trampled on the ground and claimed her spot - a corner lot in Pompano Beach - "in the name of Jesus."

Her future home - a 4/2 single family - will be built by Habitat for Humanity of Broward. Construction won't start until later this year and Brown won't move in until 2007, but she has thought about a housewarming. "That's something that I want, " said Brown, 36.

She paused, trying to find the words.

"It's not what I want, it's what I need, to tell you the truth, " Brown said.

The Miami Herald is chronicling Brown's journey toward home ownership as part of an occasional series.

Brown, a single mother raising four kids on about $18,000 a year, is one of 35 people who qualified for Habitat's class of 2005. She will purchase the home for about $70,000 - a blessing in a South Florida market where the median home price is around $377,000.

With donations and volunteer labor, Habitat offers interest-free loans.

When Brown moves in, she wants to put motion sensor lights in the front and backyard and tiles throughout the inside of her home.Her two boys - Tyler, 7, and Major, 10 - will share a room. The girls - Steanna, 16, and Alicia, 18 - will also.

The fourth room will become a guest room. She already has the bedroom sets for all the rooms - all she needs now are mattresses.

"I wish I could be in the house now, " she said in a recent interview.

Brown juggles her Habitat volunteer hours with her job as an aide at the Broward County Main Library. She has to complete 500 hours of "sweat equity" as part of the Habitat program. So far, she has worked on landscaping and other odd jobs at other Habitat homes under construction. She has also volunteered at the Habitat Re-Store in Fort Lauderdale.

A few months ago, Brown deposited an additional $500 into a Habitat account to pay taxes and insurance for the first year. She has about $1,500 in the account.

In May, Brown took her children to visit the vacant lot. Shortly after, she went a second time with a friend from church who is also in the Habitat program.

"We were just laughing and talking about how God blessed us, " Brown said.

While pregnant with Tyler in 1999, Brown lived in a shelter for about a month with her other children during a rocky marriage.

"We know what it means to be in a shelter, " Brown said.

She won't have to worry about whether she can put photos on the wall of her new home. She'll put up a fence instead of the hedges she planned at her subsidized three-bedroom Deerfield Beach townhome where she lived for five years. She moved to Central Broward recently because her complex will be demolished to build mostly single family homes around $250,000.

Amid that joy and anticipation, Brown has had her share of losses.

Her great-grandmother, a woman who helped raise Brown, died last winter.

Her grandfather, Robert Drayton Sr., died in March.

"She stood strong and kept her focus, " said Antoinette Johnson, Brown's Habitat mentor or "nurture partner" who helps her through the process. "I really admire that."

Brown's also struggled with parenting.

Steanna, her youngest girl, has improved her grades after going through a rough patch last year, cutting class at Fort Lauderdale High. Brown sent Steanna to a weeklong boot camp run by the Lauderhill Police Department to help get her on track. Brown even paid her rent late to scrounge up the $175 camp fee.

Now, Steanna attends Deerfield High and night school.

"She's trying, " Brown said.

The eldest, Alicia, graduated from Fort Lauderdale High this year. She told her mother she wants to attend Broward Community College to study business administration.

As for Brown: "As long as they're OK, I'm OK, " she said.

JOURNEY TO HOMEOWNERSHIP: KIMBERLY BROWN'S PROGRESS

* Required: 500 volunteer hours. Completed: more than 400.

* Required: Do Habitat "sweat equity" volunteer hours. On schedule.

* Attend monthly workshops on topics such as how a mortgage works and maintaining your home. On schedule.

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

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