RALEIGH — As a child, Linda Riggins lived in a city housing project where it was too dangerous to walk across the street to the playground. Now she is living in a luxury home, courtesy of the hit reality TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
Guiding her along the way has been her faith in God and her desire to serve by helping others in the community. Riggins spoke Wednesday at Meredith College, her alma mater, during a service commemorating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and a luncheon.
"We believe it was God who picked us for such a great blessing a long, long time ago," she said.
Riggins is a 1998 graduate of Meredith and an associate director of family services for Building Together Ministries, a Raleigh-based group that works with local needy families.
Riggins' work includes providing programs for parents and directing them to agencies that could help. She is married to William Riggins, who is legally blind, and is the mother of three young children.
Because of the family's service in the community, their needs and the poor condition of the Riggins' old home, "Extreme Makeover" surprised the family in late November, sending them to Disney World and building a new house in less than a week.
As part of an agreement with ABC, Riggins can't give many clues about life inside her new home and hasn't been able to have many people over. Her old home was often bustling with visitors. She said she can't wait until friends, especially her children's, can come over.
But Riggins spoke freely about her work at Building Together and the importance of volunteering.
She encouraged the students and others, who gathered to hear her talk, to volunteer: Read books to young children at Building Together's preschool or baby-sit for a mom so she can go to a PTA meeting or take a nap.
"One does not need to be ordained or have a fancy title in order to make a life-changing difference in someone's life," she said. "It doesn't matter about your life position or circumstances, you can still encourage someone else."
Meredith students, along with students at Peace College, renovated the basketball court and playground for Building Together as part of the show. Meredith is holding a party Sunday night for Meredith students to watch the show together.
Jean Jackson, vice president for student development at Meredith, said she expects a good turnout.
"It's really remarkable when someone who has a good life and has done good work and is plucked for a claim ...," she said. "The joy the campus feels that a Meredith alumna received this kind of fame is pretty widespread."
Staff writer Sarah Lindenfeld Hall can be reached at 829-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.