The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 9, 2012

Coordinating multiple homes no easy task for Habitat manager

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — EDITOR’S NOTE: The Joplin Globe, in an ongoing series, is telling the story of the many hands that play a role in recovery from the May 22, 2011, tornado, by following the construction of a Habitat for Humanity home at 2630 S. Wall Ave. Every piece of the home and every volunteer has a story.

One day last week, Matt McGee received 46 calls before 8 a.m. That’s not unusual, he said, for someone managing the simultaneous construction of 41 homes.

“I don’t have the perfect answer for how you do it. You just get in and you do it. We have a great team, great volunteers, great professionals. Every day is nonstop,” said McGee, construction manager for Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity.

In his first few months on the job, he tried color-coded tools to stay organized.

“I started with a board with all the addresses of all the homes, and every morning I would go in the office early and update what was going on at each house — things volunteers could do in one color, professionals in another color,” McGee said.

That worked until he ran out of boards.

Habitat has finished 40 homes in the area since the tornado on May 22, 2011, and in the next two weeks will hand over the keys to many more homes.

One of those homes is at 2630 S. Wall Ave., which when finished will belong to Ed and Angela Kunce.

“They’re getting ready to begin paying rent for the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailer they’re living in, so that adds a sense of urgency,” McGee said.

As a result, he is putting in six-day weeks, averaging 100 calls a day, and has been at it since 6 a.m. May 23, 2011 — the day after the tornado.

A native of Festus, south of St. Louis, McGee attended Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar to pursue a degree in business. There are five generations of Baptist preachers in his family, and he was drawn to the Christian ministry through music.

“My senior year there, I signed a record deal — I didn’t go looking for it, but my best buddy and I recorded a CD to hand out and one thing led to another,” he said.

It landed him on the Top 10 list of independent artists, had great radio play, and he toured nationally and internationally. But when it came time to record a second album, McGee needed to clear his head and took a job working with a builder in Springfield. He learned a lot about the construction industry.

At age 23, he and a friend bought a downtown building in Springfield, renovated it into six lofts and restaurants, and started their own construction company. That led him to a job with Habitat for Humanity in Springfield, which led him to Joplin when the storm hit.

“I knew the (Habitat) affiliate here would be growing, but I didn’t know to what capacity, how big or how fast,” said McGee, now 31. He accepted an offer from Executive Director Scott Clayton to serve as construction manager, and for the first five months commuted from Springfield because he couldn’t find a place to live locally.

“The third day on the job they announced we would build 10 homes in 16 days and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I done?’” McGee said.

“But you just jump in, you figure it out, you work together, and sometimes you pray about it — pray for wisdom, for perseverance, sometimes for patience. Habitat has always made a difference. Now we’re just making a difference on a bigger scale.”