The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 8, 2012

GALLERY: Commitment to build Habitat home begins before walls go up

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni

JOPLIN, Mo. — One week ago, 2630 S. Wall Ave. was nothing more than an empty lot.

In a matter of days, that all changed.

Crews dug a foundation on Tuesday.

Forms were set and concrete was poured on Wednesday.

Two days later, flooring was put in place.

By Monday, a blue-sky day just crisp enough for a jacket, the empty corner lot wasn’t empty anymore. There was a house. Or at least the skeletal frame of one.

“I couldn’t sleep last night I was so excited,” April Foulks said as she paused from putting up sections of framing on Monday morning.

The house — one of 47 that Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity has under construction in the area — illustrates what it takes as the community rebuilds from the nation’s worst tornado in more than half a century.

Before the first walls were raised, money needed to be raised, a site for the home had to be found, and donations, workers and volunteers had to be organized.

Volunteer beginnings

Foulks, a Webb City resident who works in the Jasper County juvenile office, was among a group of people from the courthouse who, in the immediate aftermath of the May 2011 tornado, helped shovel debris.

Some of it belonged to people they knew; some if it belonged to those they didn’t know.

“I think it began with us helping a co-worker, a woman who lived on Grand,” Foulks said. “And I remember thinking in the middle of that, ‘This is going to take years.’”

But, like other groups that responded to Joplin, they kept plugging away. Members made a list of cleanup projects and tackled one each weekend.

“The city got done a lot faster than we thought, and then we looked up one day and said, ‘It’s done,’” Foulks said.

Jasper County Circuit Judge Gayle Crane on Monday said members of the group didn’t want to stop helping, so they decided to shift their efforts from recovery to rebuilding.

In October 2011, Foulks called Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity to learn about the requirements for groups seeking to become house sponsors.

“They told me it was $50,000, and that sounded like a lot,” Foulks said. “I was very skeptical. But the judge (Crane) was positive. She said, ‘We’ll raise it.’”

Foulks, who used to work at the Joplin Police Department, and her husband, Derek Walrod, a captain with the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department, began reaching out to those they knew in the judicial system and law enforcement. So did Crane.

“This has been a case of someone who knows someone who knows someone,” Foulks said, referring to the way the project came together.

Justice League

By January, a 16-member committee had formed. By April, a fundraiser had been planned and executed: a golf tournament, dinner, dance and silent auction that brought in the necessary $50,000.

A family was selected: Ed and Angela Kunce. They lost their apartment on 20th Street in the tornado. After bouncing among friends’ homes, they have been living in a mobile home provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“And here we are,” Foulks said Monday. “I can’t believe it.”

The wall raising was slated for Columbus Day because the courthouse was closed, allowing 31 people to be in attendance. Members of the group will work at the site each Saturday.

They’re called the Justice League, but they shrug off any talk of being superheroes.

“We have strong personalities, and I think by nature we’re all just ‘fix it’ people,” Foulks said.

Linda Childers was among those who helped with the wall raising. She is retired after having worked at the Jasper County Juvenile Detention Center for 26 years. She was joined by her husband, George, a retired shop teacher from Miami, Okla.

“We just have felt all along that we also wanted to help in the rebuilding,” Linda Childers said. “It was important to do, and we also felt camaraderie with my former co-workers.”

As the first two wall sections went up on the northwest corner of the house, the couple checked their gear.

“We have our hard hats on, we have our hammers and nail aprons,” Linda Childers said. “We’re ready.”

Not quite two hours later, Bonnie Leiby, president-elect of the Jasper County Bar Association, was on her knees in front of the last section of wall — the front one — struggling to pound the last nail into place.

“When I was young, a third-grader, I helped replace a roof on my parents’ house,” she said. “That’s about it as far as my construction experience.”

The nail didn’t cooperate — she thought she had hit a knot in the lumber — so after unsuccessfully attempting to pull it back out, she gave up.

“I’m going to turn this last nail over to someone more experienced,” she said.

That someone was Phil Metz, a local attorney who went to high school with the future homeowners.

“We were at Parkwood together, me in the class of ’78 and they graduated in ’79,” Metz said after driving the final nail home.

His wife, Sue, who is his assistant at his practice, also was present at the work day. Although she wore a hard hat and nail apron, she was unsure of her efforts.

“I’m not sure how much I’m really helping with the building, but I am being a cheerleader,” she said with a smile from the sidelines. “With something like this, it takes all kinds, doesn’t it?”