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Twenty-five years ago, Linda Hines Dingle was a single mother of four, working a full-time job and trying to make the most of life in a rental home.
A narrow staircase led to the rooms of two of her children, while she and two others stayed on the bottom level of the home.
“I eventually had to bring the two downstairs because the roof started leaking and caving in,” she recalled. “The house needed a lot of work done to it, but the landlord at that point wasn’t really doing anything.”
She heard about the Habitat for Humanity program and “always dreamed of a house with a white picket fence and flowers,” but she put the application in her Bible and prayed about it. When Linda started dating Ray Dingle, he encouraged her to apply, and within a few months, she was selected for a lot on Lodge Street.
As construction got underway, the couple went through various classes and completed hundreds of hours of labor on the house they’d call home as well as another Habitat home that was being built next door. In 1993, they got married, and in 1994, the blended family with 11 children moved in.
“It was wonderful,” Linda Dingle said. “It was such a blessing and a dream come true.”
Over the years, the couple even put the skills learned through the sweat equity to build two outbuildings with extra living space for visiting relatives. They also expanded the home with a sunroom and a front porch.
“The pride in your home is so evident,” said Elisabeth Farnsworth, Habitat executive director. “It just makes me so happy.”
Homeownership hasn’t always been easy, though. After about three years on Lodge Street, the manufacturing company they both worked for closed, and they were out of work.
“By us having a house, it pushed us to do what we had to do to maintain, survive and keep it,” Linda Dingle said.
Farnsworth said she’s proud of how much the organization works with homeowners when struggles arise.
“If someone hasn’t paid in a few months, I don’t call and say ‘Where is our money?’” she said. “I call to see how they are doing and what is going on. We can work with them because we hold the loan and we don’t have a bank pushing us for it.”
So when the home’s air conditioner went out in 2014, the Dingles were able to borrow the money and extend their mortgage. Now they’ve made the final payment and are celebrating with a community potluck at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday at Westwood Park. Everyone is invited but encouraged to take a dish to share.
“Making that last payment was a feeling I just can’t explain,” Linda Dingle said.
The home has become the perfect gathering place for the couple’s children, 34 grandchildren and one great-grandbaby. The Dingles’ kids also are working toward owning homes of their own.
“This has been the best thing that ever happened to us,” said Ray Dingle.
The couple encouraged all aspiring homeowners to keep working and not to give up when life throws a wrench in the plans.
“So many studies have shown that having a home really improves a community, improves education levels and reduces crime,” said Farnsworth. “When you own a home, you take more pride in it and get to know your neighbors. The more I learn about affordable housing, the more I realize the positive affect it has on the whole city.”
With mortgage payments behind them, the Dingles are saving money to upgrade the flooring.
“The Habitat ReStore has also been a blessing,” she said. “We shop there a lot and that helps, too.”
A PLACE TO CALL HOME
This is the fourth installment in a series of stories of an in-depth look at the Wilson Area Habitat for Humanity programs. The organization recently selected two homeowners — Christina McMillion and Tenesha Artis — who will complete a variety of classes, volunteer hours and more before getting the keys to their new homes. To donate, volunteer or learn more about Wilson Area Habitat for Humanity, visit www.wilsonhabitat.org/.