JOPLIN, Mo. —
Even before Joy Thompson got the keys to her new house, she had lined the front porch with several small potted plants. That’s how ready she was to move in.
“Oh my God, I just want to cry,” she said moments before she received the keys. “That’s our home.”
Thompson’s family and two others that had been displaced by the May 22 tornado received the keys late Friday afternoon to their new houses, built through Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity in the 2400 block of Connor Avenue.
As excited as Thompson was to move, her daughter was perhaps even more appreciative of her new home.
“I’ve never lived in a home; I wasn’t born in a home,” Caillieya Thompson, 8, said during the dedication ceremony, tearing up as her mother put her arm around her. “We’ve always been in an apartment, and this is a dream come true.”
Thompson; her partner, Craig Thomas; and the couple’s two children, Caillieya and Caillou, 4, were in their apartment at 23rd Street and Maiden Lane when the tornado hit, destroying their home and scattering their belongings. Since then, they’ve lived in a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Their new home comes with a storm shelter, which will particularly help Caillieya, who has had a difficult time feeling safe since the tornado, Thomas said.
Sabrina Hayes, the owner of another of the houses, hid under a mattress in the bathtub with her 3-year-old son, Hunter, during the tornado. The storm sucked everything but that bathtub out of her apartment, located near 20th Street and Connecticut Avenue. She eventually moved into a FEMA trailer until she could find a permanent home that was suitable for Hunter.
“I didn’t want to move somewhere that wasn’t safe for my son,” she said. “And I didn’t want to keep moving him.”
Hayes said she planned to start moving in as soon as she could — maybe even as early as 6 a.m. today, she said.
“I kind of feel like these homes are the final touch to the healing process,” she said.
Occupying the third house will be Alissa and Stephen Gutierrez and their children, Izaius, 6, and Kingston, 3. While mother and boys were at home at 2021 Grand Ave., across from Franklin Technology Center, Stephen Gutierrez got caught in the tornado while inside his car, just seconds away from his home. They too moved into a FEMA trailer.
With the completion of their Habitat house, the Gutierrezes said they are now proud first-time homeowners and will waste no time moving in.
“We may stay in here tonight, pitch a tent and make tonight the night,” Stephen Gutierrez said.
The houses are among nine that have been sponsored by Habitat for Humanity, Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Trust, and State Farm Insurance in Joplin and Tuscaloosa, Ala., where an EF-4 tornado on April 27, 2011, killed dozens of people.
Built on land donated by Jereme Glenn, the three houses were on target for completion by the baseball All-Star game, which is Tuesday. Two more houses in Joplin are scheduled to be complete by the start of the World Series in October.
Joplin Habitat for Humanity has now completed 14 houses since the tornado. Another 27 houses are under construction, and 22 more are scheduled to be under way by the end of the year.
“It’s not about the tornado; it’s not about May 22 anymore,” Scott Clayton, executive director of Joplin Area Habitat, said during Friday’s ceremony. “It’s about where we’re at and building every day.”
Friday’s dedication of three new Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity homes in the 2400 block of Connor Avenue was followed by a neighborhood block party put on by Community Partnership, and featuring food, children’s activities and live entertainment.