There is nothing quite like watching a family break ground on the site of their future home, marking a step toward home ownership, says Linda Martin of Little Dixie Community Action Agency.

“It is a chance of a lifetime,” Martin says. “They will be in their home for 30-plus years. This will change their lives.”

Since the mid-1960s, thousands of southern Oklahomans have had their lives changed for the better by participating in the Little Dixie Self-Help Housing program, which works with low-income families to build and finance a home, says Martin, a group worker for the non-profit organization.

Those who qualify for the program agree to participate in the construction of their new custom-built home, which is financed through the USDA Rural Development. Through the USDA, financing is available with lower interest rates for lower-income households. Once approved by the USDA, the future homeowner invests 700 hours of “sweat-equity” into the construction of their home. During the four-to-six-month period of construction, the future homeowner will paint, stain, caulk, insulate, hang doors, complete trim work and clean up after the contractor.

“These are not free homes,” Martin says. “People work hard on building their house. When you put your blood, sweat and time into a house, you are going to want to take care of it for a long time.”

There are hundreds of Little Dixie homes across Carter County and the organization serves residents of Atoka, Bryan, Choctaw, Love, Marshall, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties. An Ardmore office serves residents of Carter, Love and Marshall counties.

Homes vary in size, and feature two or three bedrooms. Some homes feature garages, while others have front and back porches. Through the process, the homeowner is involved in selection of the floor plan, followed by all the details of the house, such as fixtures, paint colors, shingles, doors, carpet and more.

Little Dixie hires the professionals to do the most difficult jobs, such as plumbing, electrical, drywall and foundations. The organization also helps train and teach the homeowner and their family how to participate in the building process.

There are currently five homes in the construction phase of the program near the Ardmore area. The latest is the three-bedroom house being built by Emily King. She broke ground on the house in mid-June. The house is being built on her grandparents’ property in western Marshall County, located near U.S. Highway 70.

King, who works in Ardmore, submitted her application for the program in April 2013. She heard about the program through her mother, and decided it was worth checking out.

“I always wanted my own home,” King says. “It seemed like a good chance. Everyone has been really helpful, and the houses are really nice.”

King says she is looking forward to seeing the home complete and moving in with her two daughters.

“This will be an ideal home for her,” Martin says. “It is a three-bedroom and two-bath house, one of our largest. She and her family can grow into it. We have been so excited to get her started on her home.”

In addition to helping King secure financing through the USDA, King was eligible for a down payment assistance grant in the amount of $4,000 because she was a first-time homebuyer. The grant assists with the cost of the home and closing costs. It was provided through the Federal Home Land Bank of Topeka and Rural Enterprises Incorporated.

The Little Dixie Community Action Agency offers many programs to help southern Oklahomans. The non-profit organization provides housing counseling, homebuyer education and credit counseling, in addition to the self-help housing program. Employees are well-versed in government grants that can help seniors and low-income households with renovating or modifying their home.

“We provide a lot of services that are free, and there is no excuse why people shouldn’t contact us,” Martin says. “There are so many resources out there for people, and we can help them. If we don’t know, we will work to get them to the right people.”

The Ardmore office has recently moved to a new location at 414 S. Commerce St., and will host a come-and-go event to mark the opening of the Neighbor Works home ownership center from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday. The community is invited to tour the new office and learn about the many housing services the organization offers.

To ask questions about the Little Dixie Community Action Agency, call the Ardmore office at (580) 226-3030.