By by Joe Parrino, Courier staffDecember 2, 2008
Sergeant Latonia Brown came to the Family Readiness Support Assistant for help with her heating bill and ended up with an extreme home makeover.
"God blessed me to a magnitude that even I didn't believe," Brown said.
The brand new roof, deck, carpet, paint and appliances were the gift of volunteers from the Nashville-based Cornerstone Church.
But Brown, a Warrior Transition Battalion Soldier and Clarksville resident, would probably never have linked up with the church if she hadn't visited her FRSA last September.
Brown was worried about the approaching winter. The single mother and her five children, ages 3 through 15, were entering the cold season without a reliable furnace. The heating unit was rundown and expensive to operate.
The furnace was only one of many deteriorating parts of the house. The exterior and interior had fallen into disrepair while the house sat vacant during Brown's 2006 deployment to Iraq.
A fellow WTB Soldier told Brown about FRSA's assistance for Soldiers with families. So she went hoping for a little relief. But as Brown began to chat with FRSA worker Tammy Francis, she discovered an abundance of generosity.
"Soldiers don't realize the kindness of surrounding communities," Francis said.
Francis told Brown that only minutes before she arrived, members of a Sunday school class had called with an offer to do a full makeover for a Soldier in need. Francis handed over a contact number.
Within one month, about 75 members from the church had transformed the house. Outdoors, the roof was completely replaced, the siding pressure washed and the grounds neatly landscaped. Rooms were repainted, flooring redone and bathroom fixtures repaired.
Church members even added finishing touches such as standing a new mailbox at the end of the drive and buying the children bunk beds. Previously, the entire family shared two beds.
Brown and her children were in awe at how rapidly their house improved.
"It would have taken me years to do what they did in less than a month," Brown said.
Francis said Brown's experience is not unusual.
"I have a lot of individuals and organizations that call me up and ask how they can help a Soldier's family," Francis said.
Francis cited an example of a civilian volunteer who removed an infestation of termites in a Soldier's home. Francis also credited the Soldiers' Angels program for consistently offering volunteers for aid efforts.
Francis coordinates her efforts with the Soldier's Family Assistance Center.
Brown herself received help from multiple organizations including Soldiers' Angels, Operation Home Front and Fisher House. All were Francis' referrals.
The many helping hands have helped Brown get back on her feet, both literally and figuratively. Brown was assigned to the WTB because of reoccurring foot and leg problems. She had four surgeries on her lower limbs before her deployment. Then came the wear and tear of her deployment with the 96th Aviation Support Battalion to Iraq. Eighty to 90 hour weeks of hauling her 85-pound toolbox and hoisting rotors for Kiowa helicopters took a devastating toll.
Bones protruded from her foot. At times, the pain was excruciating enough to keep her from walking. Her condition was later rediagnosed as a problem with the Achilles tendon and she was able to get a successful corrective surgery.
In the meantime, Brown tried to reenter her children's lives. Her youngest child Vzhaunteyuandiajzyre, or "Sugar" for short, was only three months old when she deployed. It took him a long time to recognize his own mother.
"I had to sing Barney and nursery rhymes every night to help him remember who I was," Brown said.
Two of Brown's other children have special needs requiring extra accommodations and sessions with specialists.
Raising five kids is struggle enough, let alone doing it all yourself.
Brown said she also appreciated Francis' ability to show compassion instead of judgment.
"Tammy doesn't look down on you, she listened to my needs and said, 'We're going to take care of you,'" Brown said.
Francis said her years as an Army wife enable her to understand the Soldier's families.
"My judging them won't help," Francis said.
She said she has been able to help every WTB family that has come through her doors at 6736 Desert Storm Ave. Soldiers and their families can safely discuss private situations and be matched with the appropriate organization.