Downing family presented new home

Cheyenne Downing is pictured with her children, holding youngest David, Jr., with Adalynn (oldest), Allison and Brock as they listen to former NFL star Warrick Dunn. (photo by Steve Woodhouse)

Cheyenne Downing and her four children knew they were buying a Habitat for Humanity home. What they didn’t know is that it was going to be fully furnished and stocked with food, courtesy of Warrick Dunn Charities.

For about a week, staff members of the former NFL star’s foundation have been working alongside members of Habitat for Humanity of Marion County to finish the house. Downing was kept in the dark about the Dunn donation throughout the process.

Dunn learned of Downing’s situation through Jan Haugen. Haugen said he read about the charity in a Sports Illustrated article. He knew Downing’s story, as she became a single mother of three – with the fourth on the way – when her husband was killed. Habitat was already building the family a new home in Pleasantville.

“The most they do is say ‘no,'” Haugen said is why he reached out. He was contacted by the charity and a call was set up with Habitat’s leaders. Some time later, they received another call asking, “Can you keep a secret?”

Downing and her children thought they were just going to be treated to a ride inside the Pleasantville Police Department’s suburban, with Chief Joe Mrstik driving. As Mrstik pulled up in front of the new home, and around 50 people standing on the street in front Tuesday morning, June 30, the children were still excited about riding in the squad car.

Warrick Dunn, the former NFL star for the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, approached Downing himself to explain that she had been selected for an award from the charity. The Downing family is the 178th recipient of a Home for the Holidays grant. Dunn has awarded families in 13 states and 20 markets. The Downing home in Pleasantville is the first one in Iowa.

“This is very personal to me,” Dunn told the crowd. He shared the story that his mother, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty when he was barely 18 years old, the oldest of six children. “My mom’s dream was to own her own home.”

Downing was given the opportunity to address. Through tears and shock, she said, “Thank you all. I’ll never be able to tell you guys how much I appreciate it.”

The entire family was then let into the home, which was fully furnished by Aarons. Aarons, based in Georgia, has partnered with the Dunn charity for 17 years. Representatives of the Des Moines store were present. They explained that all of the furnishings were donated by the company, and tailored to meet the style of the family. So many companies and experts were said to have helped out with this project, like those over at, to meet the family’s needs and create this wonderful home.

As the family toured, there was one piece of furniture that was not donated. A dining table that oldest daughter, Adalynn, built with her late father.

While on tour, the children stood in awe as they were shown their new, fully furnished bedrooms. Youngest David, Jr., was so impressed with his sibling’s bunk bed that he immediately climbed to the top bunk.

Dunn was asked what he enjoys most about days like this. He said this experience is life-changing for the families involved and that the reception the Downing family received speaks volumes about the community.

“She has shown so much fight,” Dunn said of Downing. He had read her story before the event. “The majority of families we help share those characteristics.”

Dunn had not spent much time in Pleasantville, but reported that his staff had. They enjoyed themselves and were very impressed with the community support shown to the Downing family and the Habitat project.

“Neighbors care about helping neighbors,” Dunn said. “I can see how the community wrapped their arms around (Downing).”

He says he would be glad to come back to Iowa. There is a need for affordable housing throughout the country.

Along with the furnishings inside the home, the family was presented a check for $5,000 to cover other expenses. Downing had a shed in the back yard of the new home, and that was filled by the charity with a lawn mower and several other gardening tools.

“Mr. Dunn, thank you for loving our people,” Robin Pfalzgraf with the Habitat board said. “The opportunity to provide a home for her is a blessing to us.”

The house was not a home at the beginning of the festivities. Pastor Doug Brady of Living Word Fellowship provided a prayer and blessing to truly make it a home.

This is Habitat’s third completed home in Pleasantville. The organization has now partnered with home buyers to build over 50 homes in Marion County.