KNOXVILLE — More than 20 years ago, Linda O'Dell and her three sons were living in a home where the frame was rotting, and cracks in the walls and foundation would usher in the chilly winter air.

The foundation wasn't the only problem. The plumbing was horrific, with frequent overflows and a tub that would drain at a snail's pace, she said.

O'Dell said she was content living at the near dilapidated place, but those close to her didn't agree.

Friends Bob and Martha Ward encuraged her to apply for the construction of a new home built by volunteers and Marion County's Habitat for Humanity.

“I felt like I didn't deserve it,” O'Dell said. “There [were] people who needed it more than me.”

O'Dell wanted her three boys to grow up in a place they could call home, so she reluctantly applied. This would change her life and give her sons a place to come back to for many years to come, she said.

She was to be the first home owner of a Habitat for Humanity house in Marion County, a “non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry.” Now, 20 years later, the organization is celebrating its first home in the county.

O'Dell recalled the time during an interview with the Journal-Express, and said before and during construction, she had put in hours of community service volunteering at the library. Once construction on the home began, O'Dell said she and her sons put in many hours every Saturday helping with construction.

“We helped every Saturday. I had nephews and brother-in-laws helping out,” she said.

On the first Saturday of framing construction in May, they put in the flooring, walls and the roof. They were done before 5 p.m.

On Sept. 8, Linda and her sons moved into their new home.

O'Dell's home has not changed much in nearly 20 years. Her sons have grown up and moved on, but their presence is felt in the basement where they slept.

One of her sons wanted to live in a cardboard box, so he did, she said. He nailed cardboard around the inside perimeter walls and framed a door in cardboard.

“It's definitely unique,” she said.

O'Dell has made a few minor changes since moving in. She had a food pantry added and had wooden laminate flooring put in the living room and kitchen.

“It was time for an update,” she said.

The living room, dining room and kitchen all have the original paint from nearly 20 years ago. She has given the place her own personal touch from painted quotes on the stairs leading to the basement, to hanging purple ornaments throughout the home.

A special place is the hallway closet, where people working to build the home left their mark by leaving a quick message and signature.

The home built by many hands will be a lasting memory for O'Dell and her sons and those who volunteered.

A 20th Anniversary for Habitat for Humanity of Marion County will be celebrated from 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Feb. 11, 2017 in the Graham Conference Center at Central College.

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