LaDonna Doleman didn’t grow up in Harrisburg, but Harrisburg grew on her.
The self-described “country girl” from Hephzibah fell in love with the historic inner-city neighborhood when she and her husband moved into a small rental home near the corner of Crawford Avenue and Broad Street two decades ago.
“It used to be a very quiet and serene neighborhood,” the 44-year-old manager of Golden Harvest Food Bank’s Masters Table Soup Kitchen recalled. “I remember when we first lived there we enjoyed sitting on the porch, just watching cars and kids go by. People would wave to each other.”
Then things started to change. Car and home burglaries began to rise. Doleman, who at the time was assistant food-service manager for Select Specialty Hospital, no longer felt safe when her husband, a long-haul truck driver, would be gone for days.
As the neighborhood spiraled downward, so did Doleman’s personal life. She was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She lost her job at the hospital. She and her husband divorced. And then she moved her children to a two-bedroom apartment on Wrightsboro Road, aimlessly bouncing between jobs at restaurants and hotels.
She was distant from Harrisburg physically, but not spiritually.
“I felt that this was the neighborhood I needed to be in,” said Doleman, a member of Harriburg’s St. Luke United Methodist Church.
On July 17, she made it back. That was the day she signed the closing papers for Turn Back The Block’s newest home at 2014 Battle Row.
Doleman’s return journey began when St. Luke’s secretary, Marsha Jones, told her about the Harrisburg renewal organization’s home-ownership program, which helps credit-challenged applicants wanting to live in the neighborhood purchase new and renovated homes through “sweat equity” volunteerism and counseling in personal finance and life skills.
Jones and a fellow friend, Kim Hines, executive director of Augusta Locally Grown, a Harrisburg- based urban farming organization, sponsored Doleman’ application in 2017.
Doleman then began working with the CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority’s Crystal Snyder (a former Turn Back The Block executive director) to get her personal finances in order while putting in the required volunteer hours. Three years of dutiful budgeting and debt repayment eventually boosted the single mother’s credit score from 519 to 645 – the minimum most lenders require for a loan.
“Crystal was pretty much like my financial adviser,” Doleman recalled. “I was like a kid in an open field. I was lost, completely. It was definitely life-changing.”
Doleman’s new home – appraised at $127,500 – comes with a massive pantry (a bonus for the aspiring chef) and three bedrooms, which gives her two sons, 15-year-old Alphonso and 9-year-old Alexander, rooms of their own.
But best of all, she feels like she’s back where she belongs. And she’s determined to be the best homeowner and neighbor she can be.
“I want Harrisburg to be the old Harrisburg,” she said. “Harrisburg helped me rebuild myself, and I want to help rebuild Harrisburg.”