For a group of residents from Pennsylvania, summer vacation has meant a two-day bus ride to Joplin and seven days of helping the area rebuild after the May 22 tornado.
It’s the third time for Jim Groff, who organized the trip and brought 26 volunteers with him. Many, like Groff, are members of Lions Clubs in southeast Pennsylvania, but the group includes a pastor, a student, and a just-graduated high school senior on his way to the Air Force.
Groff, of Christiana, Pa., came last July to help other Lions Club groups with debris cleanup. Soon after returning home, he boarded a plane to return and volunteer for another week.
“Some people might make one or two trips, but a third is just monumental,” said Debbie Whittlesey, of Lebanon, and Lions past district governor for Southwest Missouri.
“He spoke all over Pennsylvania to raise money, and let people know what happened in Joplin.”
Groff said he did his own video documentary on Joplin when he was here last July, and showed it to local churches and other groups to raise money and recruit volunteers for this trip.
“I’m just so touched by what happened here; I wanted to bring other people to help,” said Groff, who works in building demolition and restoration.
His volunteers include some other building professionals and the group has worked on more than a half-dozen homes in the past week, on air conditioning repairs, electrical, plumbing and roofing jobs.
Elam Glick, of Lancaster, Pa., a roofer by trade, was laying block at a new home Friday in Duquesne. He said he also volunteered on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
“I wanted to help, and it’s surprising how fast you all are coming back,” he said.
Keith Mendenhall Jr., 16, Christiana, Pa., held fundraisers including a potato bake to raise money to cover his expenses while in Joplin.
“I really wanted to come and help make things better here,” he said, while running a cement mixer in the backyard of Jack Eaton’s home in Duquesne.
Groff said Eaton’s property was among those recommended to volunteers “because he spent so much time helping other people he hadn’t got his own house done.”
Eaton said he was able to finish most of the building on his home, on 24th Street north of Duquesne Road. But he said he appreciated the volunteers helping with the finish work. He said he hopes he and his wife can move back home by the end of the month.
He said he was remodeling before the home was destroyed by the tornado.
“We wanted it more open,” he said, laughing. “We’ve been blessed. It’s amazing a year after that we still have volunteers coming in. Everybody’s been wonderful, like family.”
The volunteers were working at a number of homes on Friday and at noon, lunch was delivered to each job site. Groff said they brought a cook and their own food, and meals were prepared each day at the Joplin Host Lions Club building, then delivered by a member of the local club.
Whittlesey, of Lebanon, said she has made 43 trips to Joplin since the storm.
She said that soon after the tornado she applied, successfully, for a total of $70,000 in grant funding for Joplin from Lions International Foundation. She said Lions from throughout the Midwest and other states came to help with debris removal.
“We’ve received close to $100,000 from other clubs that went to Joplin to help with projects; we gave vouchers, bought shoes for children, donated to the schools, adopted classrooms and bought trees,” she said. “Literally, Lions from just about every state reached out and helped in some way.”
Work by Lions Clubs to help Joplin will be part of a report presented at the upcoming Lions International Convention in Busan, South Korea, said Debbie Whittlesey, Lions Club past district governor for Southwest Missouri.