By Ryan Richardson
A group of dedicated volunteers are making Joplin their home for the week to help rebuild two homes impacted by the 2011 tornado, bringing building expertise and an influx of money to help put families back into their homes.
Thirteen members from St. Andrew's Episcopal Church and Peace Lutheran Church out of Las Cruces, N.M., brought $4,000 and gift cards to help two houses located at 2022 Pennsylvania Ave. and 1806 Iowa Ave. come closer to being ready for occupants again. The group has spent the past eight years traveling the country to help rebuild homes that were devastated in natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi and Hurricane Ike in Galveston, Texas. Kathy Morrow said Tuesday that the group has been funded by its churches to help communities rebuild.
“We started traveling because we had a priest from our church who had moved to an area that was destroyed by Katrina, and we wanted to know how we could help,” Morrow said. “We traveled to the site and found out that they were very well organized for groups like us. They had places for us to sleep and sites ready to go for us to get to work at.”
The group found out about the Joplin rebuilding effort through a Rebuild Joplin representative who was on-site studying the St. Bernard Project last summer in Louisiana. Neal McMillan, another volunteer with the project, said that group members had found the Rebuild Joplin crews to be extremely organized.
The group is a conglomerate of workers with experience from everything from siding to drywall, which has made it a hot commodity among the Rebuild Joplin program. Rachel Grewe, site supervisor with Rebuild Joplin, said that large groups that have prior building knowledge are uncommon.
“It is rare to get this big of a group to come through that are work-ready and who need minimal training,” Grewe said. “So for us to get a group that has this kind of skills is a blessing for us.”
Grewe said that the homes that the group is currently working on are touched by about 300 to 400 volunteers typically before they are finished. Much of her time is spent training groups on specific duties to help finish projects. Since the tornado, Rebuild Joplin has helped rebuild over 60 homes on a completely volunteer-driven basis.
Many of the houses surrounding the property on Iowa Avenue are still marked with X-codes that were used to identify properties after the devastation. Grewe said that a build project like this helps motivate other homeowners to follow suit.
“You’ll see people starting to take pride in their neighborhoods again once they see somewhere to start,” Grewe said. “That’s what Rebuild Joplin has been about. We are here to help build better neighborhoods down to the houses.”
The Las Cruces crew will depart Sunday to return home, McMillan said. But not before it leaves its mark on the city.
“We want people to be able to move forward,” McMillan said. “We want these houses to become homes.”
“After we scheduled our 2013 trip here they were in contact with us,” said Neal McMillan, of Las Cruces. “We’ve found that Rebuild Joplin is the best organized group that we have worked with.”