On Feb. 7, as they took the keys of their new Habitat for Humanity home in La Grange, Bobby and Regina McDonald were as comfortable together as any couple with a long and happy marriage. They looked out for each other, one filling the gaps in the other’s life skills; a union.
But while the McDonalds have a mellow relationship, they have in fact been married just three years, and the learning curve for their partnership has been steep: Bobby is a double amputee and is in a wheelchair; Regina has lost most of her sight. Their easy affection for one another is made manifest in the couple’s every move. He sees; she walks; they act as one.
Their new home is on a pleasant street in La Grange, a town of 2,873 souls in rural Lenoir County, about midway between Raleigh and the coast. That it’s a Habitat home is thanks to the State Employees Credit Union Foundation’s “Mountains to the Sea Challenge,” with a goal to build a Habitat home in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
For Bobby McDonald, getting the house in La Grange was a gift from God, for his and Regina’s afflictions had come on suddenly.
“It happened in less than a 12-month period,” he recalls. “It started in 2013. We thought that through it all that we would be able to maintain things and keep things in order. God gave us strength to withstand anything.
“Last year in January we heard from a lady in New Bern about Habitat. We called to Lenoir County (Regina grew up in La Grange) and found they didn’t do Habitat here; there’s no office. We called Craven County and Greenville. They didn’t do houses in Lenoir County. Then we called Wayne County Habitat and that’s where we got the connection.”
Because the SECU Challenge was a commitment to serve every North Carolina county, it allowed Habitat for Humanity of Goldsboro-Wayne to say “yes” to the McDonalds.
Matthew Whittle, the affiliate’s executive director, addressed the gathering of family, friends and Habitat volunteers on the newly seeded lot on Spence Street.
“This is our first house in La Grange and our first house in Lenoir County. We had an opportunity to come into Lenoir County and do a build in an area where we normally don’t get that chance.”
Once the McDonalds take over the mortgage on their new home, the SECU Foundation returns the funds to the Habitat affiliate so that work on another home can begin.
“There are only 72 Habitat affiliates in North Carolina,” Whittle said. “Because not every county has its own, affiliates have been asked to double up.”
Once the McDonalds won approval for the house, the process moved quickly, said Linda Biser, finance and family services director for the affiliate.
Because the couple was living on Social Security and disability pay, there were initially problems with getting approval for a Habitat home. They were put on a waiting list, and when the SECU Challenge presented an opportunity to build in Lenoir County, Biser informed the couple.
The McDonalds waited to hear. And they remember with perfect clarity the day they got the phone call.
“She said that if anything happened she would call,” Bobby said. “We waited, and we prayed.” On a February morning in 2016 Regina heard the phone ring while she was showering.
“I heard him talking loud, and I went crazy. I knew something was going on. I said ‘Thank you Jesus.’ I grabbed a towel.”
Biser said the McDonalds are great partners in Habitat’s work. They put in their “sweat equity” hours at the affiliate’s ReStore outlet; Regina was the store’s greeter. And they completed their financial counseling, learning all the realities of becoming a homeowner versus a renter.
They were also easy to work with. The house is basically one of the affiliate’s standard plans, except for support bars in the master bath and much wider doorways and hallways that accommodate Bobby’s wheelchair.
Early on, there was some concern that the couple would not get in their 300 hours of sweat equity on time. But the McDonalds’ church family came to the rescue, and “there was no holding them back. They had already hit their 300 hours by Christmas.” There were also challenges of working in a county we are not familiar with, Linda explained. But Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro offered lots of help, with volunteers trucked in on Saturdays and Thursdays.
For Habitat for Humanity of North Carolina and the SECU Foundation, the McDonalds’ tidy home in La Grange is another step toward fulfilling the 100-house/ 100-county goal of investing up to $10 million to build a new (or thoroughly renovated) home in each of the state’s 100 counties. For Regina and Bobby McDonald, their new home is clearly an act of God’s grace.