By Susan Redden
AmeriCorps volunteers are doing more for Warner and Jeanie George than rebuilding a home, Jeanie George said Monday.
The workers, she said, “have lifted our spirits. ... They saved us; they knew what to do when we didn’t know where to turn.”
Emotional support for victims is often a byproduct when AmeriCorps responds to a disaster, said Wendy Spencer, chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the parent agency for AmeriCorps.
Spencer arrived in Joplin on Monday on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the May 22 tornado.
Besides touring the George home, she visited with AmeriCorps members from St. Louis and was to be among the federal officials to attend the Joplin High School graduation. She also will join in today’s Walk of Unity through the disaster zone.
“They give such support because they really want to be here and help,” Spencer said of the hundreds of men and women who have come to Joplin with AmeriCorps. “The main thing I’m here for is to thank the volunteers. I also want to remind people that volunteers are still needed because there’s still work to be done.”
The home owned by the Georges, at 2615 W. 32nd St., was seriously damaged when rain poured in after the tornado, which stripped all but the decking off the roof, blew in most of the windows and felled a large tree onto their garage.
The couple weren’t at home that night because Warner George is recovering from serious health problems and is unable to climb the stairs. They were staying at the home of a family member. Jeanie George is currently being treated for breast cancer.
The couple said their insurance settlement was not enough to rebuild their home, and they didn’t have any additional money because medical bills have wiped out their savings.
AmeriCorps crews are turning the couple’s former garage into a bedroom and bathroom that will allow the Georges to live on the main floor of the house. A roof was going on that addition Monday. Crews also have gutted the house to replace insulation, drywall and flooring.
The Georges are buying the building materials, but Jeanie George said they could not afford to hire a contractor to make needed repairs. She said AmeriCorps volunteers at first persuaded her to allow them to demolish the garage, which was split when the tree fell. She said she was reluctant to allow them to rebuild the home because she doubted that the skilled labor required would be available. That wasn’t the case.
“It’s amazing; the right people have been here at the right time,” she said.
The volunteers included a crew of people from California with plumbing and electrical experience who helped with the addition last week, said Dorothy Maples, a former Joplin resident who has returned as a volunteer through AmeriCorps.
“They flew in on their own dime, brought their tools and stayed the whole week,” she said.
MEMBERS OF AMERICORPS’ St. Louis Emergency Response Team arrived in Joplin within hours of the May 22 tornado. They set up a missing-person hot line and opened a volunteer center at Missouri Southern State University that handled 3,000 volunteers who showed up the next day. A year later, more than 25 AmeriCorps members remain in Joplin, helping with home building and repair, assisting with legal services for low-income residents, and managing volunteers and donations.
WENDY SPENCER, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said AmeriCorps “provides the infrastructure so volunteers can come and be deployed where they are needed.”