By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
What a difference a year makes.
“You could tell where the tornado had went through when we were here last year,’’ said Scott Lambeth, a 19-year-old from Plainview, Ill., who is on his second tour of duty as a volunteer in Joplin.
“There are houses here again,” he said. “It’s crazy.’’
Like last year, Lambeth is working with World Changers, a faith-based organization that works to improve substandard housing.
Having made two trips to Joplin, Lambeth is making a connection to the town.
“On Wednesday, we went by the house from the year before,” he said. “I do feel a bit of a connection to what I’m doing here.’’
Lambeth is among 238 students from across the nation who are working this week in Joplin. Each of them pays about $250 to participate in the program.
It appears that volunteers like Lambeth plan to continue their connection to Joplin. That’s welcome news for Rebuild Joplin and Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity, and other local support organizations that depend heavily on volunteers to help them build and repair homes.
“We were concerned about that initially after the Oklahoma tornadoes, but we are not seeing it,’’ said Doreen Finney, spokeswoman for Rebuild Joplin, who is working with World Changers.
“We had one group scheduled for the fall that has canceled,” she said. “But we are not seeing people leaving here to go out there. Those already scheduled are still coming to us.
“We have local people working, plus the people from out of town. We have repeat groups who have worked with us before. Joplin still needs them, and they know that.’’
Finney said the number of volunteers coming to Joplin more than two years after the tornado fluctuates with the seasons.
“Our numbers are down a bit for the fall, but you can expect that,” she said. “That’s when kids go back to school. It’s part of the normal ebb and flow of our volunteer base.’’
Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity has constructed 71 homes in the past two years and has 17 in the works.
“Actually, we’re still doing pretty well with our volunteers,’’ said Scott Clayton, executive director of the organization. “The interest is still there with area businesses and churches. A lot of outside groups who have been here before are coming back.
“We are very fortunate in that regard. Some of the volunteers have been here two or three times. They were part of something at the beginning and want to come back.’’
Clayton said much of the heavy lifting in terms of Joplin’s initial recovery has been done.
“Overall, we don’t need as many volunteers as we did because the production now is not as heavy,” he said. “That’s because so much has been done. Habitat for Humanity was working with volunteers before the tornado. Joplin is a community that still wants to give. We still have a lot of local volunteers.’’
The volunteers are essential to the work being done by Kate Fields, an AmeriCorps project supervisor, who is working with Lambeth and other students to complete a two-bedroom Rebuild Joplin house at 1310 E. 24th St.
“We’re getting the drywall up now,” said Fields, who moved to Joplin last year from Shawnee, Kan. “It’s starting to look like a house now. We still have a lot to do here in Joplin, but we have come a long way since the beginning.
“There is still a need here. That’s why they are still coming.’’