After her husband was murdered in 2007, Rina Dixon found it tough to make ends meet for her and her three growing kids. In fact, despite working two jobs, she struggled to pay her rent, forcing the family out of their home and into a cramped garage at grandma’s house. But for the next three years, Dixon would be working a third job that would pay off in a big way.
Dixon, a mother of three from Sacramento, California, worked hard to provide food and shelter for her family. But when her husband was tragically killed, her two boys were aged just one and two years old. So with one other daughter, Dixon was left on her own when it came to raising the three kids.
Unsurprisingly, it was a struggle for the single mom. Indeed, Dixon was working a few part-time jobs just to make ends meet. Inevitably, though, the cost of raising three children quickly added up, and soon enough she could not afford the rent. As a result, the family had to leave their home.
To begin with, Dixon moved into public housing. She would soon come to realize, however, that it was no place to raise young kids. Having seen a number of shootings in the short time they were there, Dixon feared that her children would get hurt. So she devised another plan.
Faced with a desperate situation, Dixon moved into the garage adjoining her mom’s house. The space was tiny – 200 square feet – and the structure was not built to be lived in. But at least they had a roof over their heads, and it was only a temporary arrangement, right?
However, that was how the Dixons would live for the next three years. Lacking the basic commodities of electricity, running water and personal space, the family of four were stuck. During blistering summers and sub-zero winters, Mom slept in the garage with the two boys, while her daughter had the relative luxury of grandma’s living room.
For five days a week, the struggling mom worked as a doctor’s receptionist. But she realized that her desperate situation needed to change, and so Dixon took drastic action. In fact, she took on another job – and this one would change their lives forever.
Because in 2013 Dixon began building a brand-new home for her and her children – as well as working on homes for others – as a member of Habitat for Humanity. As part of the “sweat equity” initiative, volunteers give up their free time in order to build houses. Then, at the end of it, successful candidates earn the front-door keys to their very own homes.
Volunteers must contribute 500 hours building their own and other peoples’ houses. And upon successful completion, candidates walk away as the owners of the homes they have built themselves. The organization has said that it’s not so much a handout as a helping hand in a time of need.
Indeed, the program is far from an easy ride. After all, participants contribute their time around regular jobs and childcare. And in Sacramento, they have to endure the ravages of extreme seasonal changes. In fact, Dixon found the work so brutal that she almost quit on the very first day.
Speaking to the ABC10 channel in 2016, Dixon recounted her first day on the job. “[I was] almost in tears, driving home, sun burnt, wore out, dirty and feeling so hot and sweaty,” she said. To make matters worse, participants in the scheme must be over 16, so her kids couldn’t pitch in. Once again, she was on her own.
It was her kids, however, that would help Dixon in other ways. As she explained, “I get home, look at my kids and our living situation – in a converted garage – and I say to myself, ‘I’m not a quitter.’ I refuse to let my kids see me give up.”
The seeds of Habitat for Humanity were first sown in the late 1960s. Clarence Jordan, a farmer and bible scholar, owned a community near Americus, Georgia. Realizing that the farm’s workers needed solid, affordable homes, the organization’s founders devised a plan.
Along with Jordan, Linda and Millard Fuller had the idea of utilizing volunteers to build homes at zero profit. Supporters of the initiative would donate no-interest loans to the recipients of the new homes. Meanwhile, financial gains through fundraising would be invested into building more new homes.
The Fullers took the concept to the Democratic Republic of Congo – formerly Zaire – in 1973 under the name Fund for Humanity. After three successful years developing their idea, they returned to the United States. Then, with the help of supporters, in 1976 Habitat for Humanity International was born.
With the support of former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Habitat for Humanity’s work spread to 1,400 communities in the U.S. In fact, to date, the initiative has given almost seven million vulnerable people around the world new homes. Meanwhile, Dixon’s would be the 130th to be built in the Sacramento area.
So in March 2016 – and after three years of graft – Dixon received the keys to her very own, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home. It had indeed been a difficult nine years since their dad died, but the home offered Dixon’s children a new beginning. Yes, it was a symbol of hope.
Plus, the volunteers constructed the house – a donation from Bank of America – to meet rigorous eco-friendly building targets. And overseeing Dixon’s work for three years was Habitat for Humanity executive director Rob Kerth. Needless to say, the single mom’s level of commitment impressed him and others on the project.
Throughout the work, the mom-of-three never gave up hope. Dixon told Fox 40, “Having their own rooms, decorating their own rooms, having their own space. Going from a converted garage to a home is amazing.”
On the momentous day when she received the keys to her new house, Dixon said, “Right now I just wanna relax. I just wanna kick my feet up and just sit down.” In tears, she described her achievement as “a good feeling.” Now in possession of a zero percent mortgage, Dixon was able to do what she once thought unimaginable: purchase the home for her family.