By Scott Meeker
The framed photograph was of a picture of the new house at 2201 S. Harlem Ave. Around the border, it had been autographed by many of the volunteers who had donated their time to build the home from the ground up.
“Congratulations on your new home, and welcome home,” said Michael Adams — construction and volunteer manager for the Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri project — passing the photo to the home’s new owner, Marilyn Brown.
Standing on her porch, Brown took the photo and extended her hand to Adams to shake it. What she received in return was a warm embrace.
An open house ceremony was staged Monday afternoon to celebrate the completion of Brown’s new home.
She was all smiles as volunteers and other invited guests took a tour of the finished home, which she saw for the first time last week.
“I was given a set of blueprints (to show what it would look like), but they built from a different set,” she said. “I was a little freaked out, but I like this house better.”
The 1,200-square-foot home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms sits on the same property as Brown’s former home, which was destroyed in the May 22, 2011, tornado.
Since the tornado, she said she had been living in an apartment across town that her son had rented for her.
Based in Springfield, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri has had a presence in Joplin since just 24 hours after the tornado, said Maureen Jersak, the organization’s director of communications. Today, almost two years later, the group maintains a disaster case management office as well as a secondary office and warehouse devoted to repair and rebuild projects.
“We rely completely on volunteer labor,” said Jersak, who noted that the organization’s base of volunteers spans church groups from a variety of denominations. Because of spring break, she said, a number of church and college groups were in Joplin last week.
Among the volunteers are a group of Mennonites who have been working with Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri full-time since May of 2012.
“They’re a remarkable group,” Jersak said. “They work for about six months and then another crew comes in to take their place. We’ve been keeping them busy.”
Joining those gathered for Monday’s open house was Al Kopaska, a central Iowa resident who is volunteering in Joplin through the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, also known as World Renew.
Though his group didn’t volunteer at Brown’s house, they’re currently working with Catholic Charities to rebuild a home on Murphy Avenue during their two-week visit.
“This is my third trip (to Joplin),” said Kopaska. “It’s a dramatic change from a year ago, when there was still rubble and people picking up.”
Brown said she was almost at a loss for words when it came to what she wanted to say to all of the volunteers who gave their time to rebuild her home.
“I just want to say a prayer for all of them,” she said.
To date, it has assisted with the repair and rebuilding of more than 150 homes in Joplin.