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A refuge when life lashes out

For a moment Tuesday, the pain of the last few years was an afterthought for Stephanie Battle.

A joyful surprise brought her some consolation, despite the fact she lost her 15-year-old daughter to cancer on July 12, 2004.

And that her sister died of breast cancer nine days later.

And that she spent Monday evening in the hospital with her 9-year-old daughter, who is now battling bone cancer.

For a few seconds in the cool morning air, Battle, 34, didn't think about her own recent bout with breast cancer.

"Is that Warrick Dunn?" Battle's 15-year-old-son Terry Davis Jr. mouthed to his mother.

Yes, it was Warrick Dunn.

"It's just hard for me to keep my emotions," Battle said after Dunn gave her the keys and a tour of her new, fully furnished home on Tangerine Street. "It was just very shocking. I'm just speechless. It's just a blessing."

Through the Warrick Dunn Foundation, Battle signed the documents needed to close on her new home, a salmon-colored, three-bedroom, two-bath home with a garage.

In addition to furnishing the house and stocking the refrigerator with a ham, a fresh turkey, chicken and the cupboards with canned goods, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back handed Battle a $5,000 check toward her closing costs on the $168,000 purchase. Then he handed her a $3,715 check to pay off all of her debt except her car payment and her new house payment.

Battle could only put her head in her hands.

Terry Davis on the other hand, with his million-dollar smile, pulled out his camera phone to get a picture of Dunn.

Dunn stopped, smiled like he was posing for his little brother, and gave the peace sign.

Davis beamed.

Battle came to the attention of the Dunn Foundation after having completed a recent home-buyer training program through Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services. Isay Gulley, the organization's president/CEO, secretly nominated Battle, who works as a health information management technician for Largo Medical Center.

"You guys have got to pray for me because I've had to tell a lot of lies during this process," Gulley said. To keep Battle unaware of her newly furnished home, Gulley told her there was a ceremony to celebrate the completion of a new subdivision.

The house is also part of a Neighborhood Housing Services revitalization effort to provide quality housing to those in need. The organization built the new home with city funding after acquiring the land with the help of NeighborWorks America Funding.

Established in 1997, the Warrick Dunn Foundation has presented Home for the Holidays, giving single mothers $5,000 in down payment assistance and fully furnished homes. Including Tuesday, 27 mothers and 64 children have been helped in and around the Tampa Bay area.

Battle was the second Clearwater resident Dunn has helped. In 2003, he helped Tatishka Thomas, a mother of two.

Along with Battle, Dunn also helped two other women in the Tampa Bay area on Tuesday: Roslynn Kearney of St. Petersburg and Cheryl Caro of Tampa.

"I've been blessed to play the game of football," said Dunn. "It's important that I give back. It's a blessing to me to be able to help change a family's life."

Earlier in the morning, Dunn, who is now an Atlanta Falcons running back, said to Battle: "Thank you for allowing me to help you."

Each room of the home was thoughtfully decorated. The master bedroom included a cherry sleigh bed. In 9-year-old Craesha Gordon's room, there was a lamp with a pink shade and a wood carving of her name on the dresser. Terry's room included a full-sized bed, a backpack and a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Throughout the morning, Dunn kept telling Terry that he had a special gift for him. They made their way to the garage. A new lawn mower was there.

"I want you keep this grass cut," Dunn said sternly.

Terry nodded and as he had done all morning, flashed his smile.

Just the night before, the family of three was living in a two-bedroom apartment in Belleair. Terry and Craesha had never had their own rooms.

But as the afternoon went on, reality began to set back in for Stephanie Battle. The apartment complex is still demanding its rent for the month of December, though she will not be there. And Battle received a phone call for Craesha's doctor informing her that the girl must undergo surgery Friday.

"It's just a struggle, and there's always something," Battle said. "But today was a blessing. It was just a blessing."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

HOW TO HELP

Journey to home

To donate to the foundation, send a check or money order made out to Warrick Dunn Foundation to:

Warrick Dunn Foundation

6363 Bayside Key Drive

Tampa, FL 33615

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