For Billy Singleton, the tidy, blue, brand-new house on Falling Creek Road in Hickory is a solid foundation in what has often seemed like a life on the move. “I spent my childhood moving from place to place,” he says. That continued after he married Tasha and after the birth of their daughter Autumn, who will soon be 5. Before they applied to Habitat for Humanity, he and Tasha were renting a decrepit trailer with holes in the floor. It was infested with mold, Autumn and two-year-old brother Gabriel were sick with allergies all the time, and their power bill was around $300 a month.
About a year ago, Tasha was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Since then, Billy has been the sole breadwinner working nights at a plant that produces fiber filling for the furniture industry. But, by that time, the Singletons were well on their way with an application to Catawba Valley Habitat for Humanity that has taken about two years to come to fruition with their new three-bedroom, two-bath home set in a pleasant subdivision of large, old-growth trees. It’s a mix of market-rate and Habitat homes, and Catawba Habitat plans to build eight more homes on the land.
The Singleton home is part of the Mountains-to-the-Sea Challenge to build a Habitat for Humanity home in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. It is funded by a $10 million grant from the State Employees Credit Union Foundation. Once the client family assumes a zero-interest loan from SECU, the funds are returned to the affiliate so that another house can be built.The Challenge is funded by the $1 per month maintenance fee that each SECU account holder pays. The Singletons’ new hope in life is the latest manifestation of that program.
“They completed their ‘sweat equity’ in near-record time,” said Brad Huggins, a retired surgeon who is active with the Catawba affiliate. “I’ve been on site with Billy. He’s always smiling and excited about any kind of building he can do. He even gets happy about sheetrock.” The Singletons began building their “sweat equity” hours – time spent helping in the construction of a Habitat for Humanity home that is required of all homeowners – on the house that stands next to theirs. They put in 100 hours there, and another 300-plus on their own home. “They are some of first persons in their family to have home ownership,” Huggins said. “They have what it takes to have the vision and belief that you can do something that you’ve never experienced. It has been an incredible joy to see this unfold for them and with them.”
The house is not the only good news for Tasha and Billy. Her MS is being kept in check with medication, and her latest MRIs give them reason for hope. Autumn is starting kindergarten this year, and the family plans to hold her fifth birthday party in their new home. Jenna Ross spoke to the crowd at a dedication ceremony in mid-April. “We envision a world where everyone has a decent place to live,” said Ross, Community Outreach coordinator for the Catawba Habitat affiliate. “If you’ve been inspired, then I ask you please don’t stop with today. There are so many ways to keep building on that energy. Serve, donate, advocate, share. We are in need of passionate volunteers. Go to our website. When you speak about Habitat for Humanity it resonates with your friends and family.”
Julie Bristow, director of Rehabilitation Services for the Frye Regional Medical Center, a major player in the project, presented Tasha and Billy with a “pounding” – a Southern tradition of kitchen staples to get the family started in their new home. “I’m from Pennsylvania,” Bristow told the crowd. “There, a pounding means someone beating you up. In the South we put a slight twist on pounding.” Bristow also presented the Singletons with a $550 gift card from Frye employees, and gift bags for Autumn and Gabriel. Beth Huggins, a Habitat volunteer, presented the Singleton family with a Bible.
“We believe in you; we have faith in you,” she said. “That you will thrive and grow here as a family.”
Bill DuPre, Habitat for Humanity North Carolina