RALEIGH — People had prayed for weeks that the big black bus would drive down Poplar Street and stop at the home of Linda and William Riggins. The appeal had been raised through churches and e-mail groups for something good to happen to a woman who spent years putting other people's needs above her own.
On Thursday, the answer rolled down Poplar Street and stopped at No. 207. Hunky host Ty Pennington and the crew from "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" used a bullhorn to let Riggins and her family know they had been selected.
"I've never been so excited," said Freddy Johnson, a longtime friend and co-founder of the ministry where Linda Riggins works. "I broke down this morning when I saw her coming out."
Over the next six days, a crew of designers and carpenters -- plus several hundred volunteers -- will reconstruct the Rigginses' home near Peace College and nearby Building Together Ministries. While streets are closed, city buses rerouted and construction crews are on the job around the clock, the family will be at Disney World on the show's dime. They'll return for "the reveal," which usually ends with tears and screams of joy on the ABC Sunday night series.
The family could not be reached Thursday -- ABC took their cell phones.
Lynn Noudewo, another close friend, nominated the family based on Linda's two decades of charity work and the needs of the family, who lived in the bottom half of the two-story home built in 1936. The top half was usually given over to other families in need, people to whom Linda Riggins ministered as part of Building Together.
Linda Riggins has severe arthritis. William Riggins is legally blind. Their two-bedroom, one-bath house, valued by Wake County $145,875, is not in good shape.
"There's duct tape holding up everything," Noudewo said. "Thank the Lord for duct tape."
Around the house Thursday morning, tables and tents were set up for reporters and the show's crew.
Adventure: Take 1
Five hours after the 7 a.m. knock on the Rigginses' door with the news that they had been chosen, they made their way to a white stretch limousine that would take them to the airport. The children -- Earlene, 3, Christa Marie, 4, and William Jr., 6 -- hopped and skipped toward the street as the crew recorded their steps. Other cameras focused on the designers and Linda Riggins' sister, Tina Hawkins, waving from the porch.
That was so good, the director said. Then he asked them to do it again -- and again.
Lives of good work
Noudewo met and befriended Linda Riggins in 1991 through Building Together, established in the old Halifax Court housing project in 1989 by Freddy and Helen Johnson. The mission of the Christian ministry, across the street from the Riggins home, is to provide tutoring, summer camp and life-skill classes for single mothers, and GED classes to neighborhood residents.
Linda works full time for the ministry -- speaking at churches and raising money -- and part time at its resale store on Crabtree Boulevard.
"It's time somebody did something for them," Noudewo said.
What that something is will remain a secret -- at least for now. But it will be built around the dreams and wishes that the Rigginses expressed in interviews with ABC over the past five weeks, after they learned that they were a finalist for the show.
"I'll tell you this much -- it's awesome," said Don Mead of HomeLife Communities, which ABC chose to build the home. "It fits the family's needs."
The project was coordinated by his company, the city of Raleigh, Progress Energy and other utilities. Raleigh will have building inspectors on site around the clock.
A collective effort
HomeLife is soliciting donations to help the family pay off the old mortgage and medical bills, and to meet other expenses. The company has already raised about $30,000 toward the $140,000 that Mead estimates will be needed.
Based on the experiences of other "Extreme Makeover" families, the money should come in handy. The series has rebuilt or renovated about 70 homes since it went on the air in 2003, and some families have been shocked at the resulting increase in their property taxes and overhead.
But the improvements to the homes are always dramatic -- as is the series itself.
When the family returns from Disney World, the old house will be gone. The Building Together facility will have a new roof and other improvements.
Today, crews will start clearing the property and emptying the house. Pennington and legions of volunteers will rush the house about 7:30 a.m. Saturday, and the structure will be demolished at noon. About 700 people will work around the clock to make the Thursday deadline.
"I think it couldn't have happened to a better person," said Tracy Hawkins, another of Linda's sisters. "I think it's a wonderful, wonderful blessing."
(Staff photojournalist John Rottet contributed to this report.)
Staff writer Weta Ray Clark can be reached at (919) 829-4758 or email@example.com.