Loving Gaston County family lifts woman, children up
GASTONIA, N.C. — On the front porch of a new Habitat for Humanity home in Gastonia, Joe Padilla Jr. stepped up with crisp military efficiency and attached an American flag to the house that his sister Linda De La Garza and her four children will now call home. Padilla wore jeans and a T-shirt, but on this sunny Sunday in early August of 2018 he carried his four years as a U.S. Marine like a uniform.
Such a bright day might have been hard for De La Garza to have imagined back in Portland, Texas, on July 2, 2006, when her husband succumbed to melanoma less than a year after being diagnosed. “Over four years ago Linda came up here,” Padilla told the crowd which had gathered for the dedication.
De La Garza and her four children moved from their home on Corpus Christi Bay to her brother’s basement in Gastonia, which he had renovated for them. Along with her brother’s three children, it made a full household. “It was rough at first,” trying to juggle the schedules of seven children and three adults, Padilla admitted. “But we were able to work it out.”
“My wife Stephanie and I thought that we had to bear the burden by ourselves, to help our family out. I want to thank you guys for being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. This is what a Christian community is supposed to be like. We are going to continue to be here right beside her, through the good times and the bad times. I am in awe and I am speechless and I will be until the Lord comes to bring us home.”
The well-wishers included representatives of the Gastonia Union Road Branch of the State Employees Credit Union. The Gastonia house is one of 102 being built as part of the Mountains-to-the-Sea Challenge, a $10 million commitment by the SECU Foundation to build at least one Habitat home in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Once the homeowner assumes a zero-percent interest loan from SECU, the funds are returned to the Habitat affiliate so that another home can be built.
Others on hand were from some of the dozen or so churches that had participated in building the five-bedroom, three-bath home, which included Venture Church in Dallas, N.C., where De La Garza and her brother are members. “We rejoice with you as you take possession of your brand-new home,” said Patricia Franks of the Gaston County Habitat board. “I remember in March, when many of us were standing right here when we did the groundbreaking. And look at God today. Just look at God. This home is a gift from God, a gift of love, a gift from your friends at Habitat for Humanity and all the wonderful volunteers. From your church and your village that helped make this a success. We cared for you and prayed for you with every hammer and nail along the way. We consider it a privilege to present this Bible to you and your family as a memento of this special day.”
John Lowery, board president of the Gaston Habitat affiliate, thanked Pearson Properties for donating the land for the house and for the house next door, which were built simultaneously. He also thanked Thrivent Financial, a Lutheran-run nonprofit investment firm which is one of Habitat’s largest financial backers.
And then Sue Johnson of the Homeowner Services Committee of the Habitat affiliate, said what everyone already knew. “Linda was born into a loving family. … The word ‘home’ means to Linda a place where her children and she can grow and flourish together.”
Finally, De La Garza spoke to the crowd. “I give thanks to God, to Habitat, to friends and family for supporting us and to everyone who helped build the home for us.”
Later, Padilla reflected on the love and work it took to get his sister to this point.
“I’ve had my ups and downs in life, but the Bible says take care of widows and orphans. I’m trying to live my life for Christ.”
By Bill DuPre, Habitat for Humanity of North Carolina