Breaking ground on a $400,000 house-building project without any money is crazy.
Seeing that house standing, nearly finished, on Adelman Avenue in Brookfield about a year later is even crazier.
Heaven House (as the project has become known) was launched to give Dan and Lori O'Brien a new home. Over 16 years, the O'Briens have adopted 14 children, raised three biological children and served as temporary foster parents for about a dozen additional children.
"Everyone has different gifts and strengths," Lori said. "Our calling is to take in broken and wounded kids and help them to become beautiful flowers."
But the O'Briens' 70-year-old, four-bedroom home was getting run down. Without dramatic renovation, they may not have been able to take in any more children. Then, about two years ago, the O'Brien's garage burned down.
Victory Fellowship International Church of Brookfield's leaders had long talked of doing something to help, the Rev. Andy Horn said.
"We saw an opportunity to exhibit God's love by doing something like this," he said.
Nobody could have anticipated what would follow.
When Lori learned of plans to build her family a new home last year, she didn't believe it could happen.
"You can't get blood from a turnip: We don't have the money," she recalls saying.
But the project started gaining momentum. The nonprofit Hometown Heroes of Grafton jumped on board to help raise funds. Tom Schwalbach, a self-employed remodeler from Greenfield and a Victory parishioner, emerged as a project leader.
"I felt called by the Lord to head this up," he said. "It was matter of obedience."
Lori - still pessimistic about the project - went to Mexico in August 2009 to pick up Jose, a gravely ill 10-month-old boy who became the couple's 14th adoptive child. When they returned, Lori said, she was amazed to see the basement of Heaven House already dug out.
'A miracle is happening'
In the year that followed the groundbreaking, miracles paved the path of Heaven House, Horn said.
"The right people kept coming forward at the right time. Some of them were just driving by the house, saw the sign and stopped," he said.
An architect offered to draft blueprints for free. Certified electricians, plumbers and builders stepped up to donate time and resources. Volunteers showed up in scores every weekend. The home was built one Saturday at a time.
"It's hundreds of people, and dozens of leaders, stepping up," Schwalbach said. "It's obvious there's some bigger force behind this than just us."
Fundraisers have been used to pay for home decorations and furnishings. The majority of materials used in the $400,000 house were given freely. Eighty-seven local businesses, churches and civic groups have donated to the project.
The O'Briens' new eight-bedroom, 3,400-square-foot home could be finished - and completely furnished - later this month.
"This just doesn't happen, seeing a house coming together in a year," Schwalbach said. "There's a miracle happening in Brookfield right now."
- Elm Grove Village Market Night to debut in June
- Brookfield and Elm Grove Police Report: May 26
- In Brief: Brookfield Sport Authority closing along with the rest of the chain
- Brookfield Ask Now: How does the city attack garlic mustard weed? (1)
- Cultural center for women moving to Brookfield
- Brookfield and Elm Grove go all out for Memorial Day
- Milwaukee Tool opts for a more high-tech look in its expansion
- Brookfield and Elm Grove Meetings: March 26
- Brookfield and Elm Grove In Our Schools: May 26
- Brookfield/Elm Grove News IQ: May 26