By Kelsey Ryan
Globe Staff Writer
For Melinda Underwood, Alex Garcia and their five kids, a new home through Habitat for Humanity is a blessing.
The family has been living in a two bedroom duplex after the tornado destroyed both the apartment where they had been living in and the one they were moving into at Hampshire Terrace Apartments.
“It’s kind of a surreal experience,” said Underwood. “We never thought we’d get it, so we’re very thankful. I’m just looking forward to being able to say it’s ours.”
But their home isn’t going to be your typical Habitat house — it’s going to be built with the help of volunteers from the University of Missouri athletics programs.
Their family is just one of five who will receive homes built with the help of MU students on the 2500 and 2600 blocks of Virginia Avenue and the 2600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. Another 30 homes are part of the Governor’s Challenge, a goal set forth by Gov. Jay Nixon after the tornado in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity and major sports teams in Missouri, including the Royals, Chiefs, Rams, Cardinals, Blues and NASCAR.
“It’s amazing for all the support,” Underwood said. “Now for these students to take time out of their summer to come and help us build our home, we can’t say thanks enough.”
On Friday, the students also spent time playing sports-related games with Habitat kids, meeting the families and volunteering at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, 315 S. Blackcat Road, which sells construction materials and home furnishings at a discounted price.
“I thought it would just be a great opportunity to come out and support this community,” said Sarah Thune, a senior communications and business major and soccer player from MU, whose interest in volunteering was piqued after hearing from other MU volunteers. “I hadn’t been here yet and today it’s all about the families and all of us are super excited to be here and get involved.”
Thune said she most looks forward to seeing the families’ reactions once the homes are complete.
“They’ve gone through so much and to know that there’s not just sporting teams in Missouri, but everybody’s behind them and wants the best for them and ultimately just seeing the community whole again,” Thune said.
The Joplin Area Habitat is a non-profit and non-denominational Christian housing organization that was founded in 1989. Since the tornado, the group has completed 14 houses, have 21 houses under construction and plan to build 30 more houses this year. Before the tornado, they were completing three to five homes a year for the community.
“It’s about rebuilding a town but it’s also about giving families a home they can be proud of that they work for,” said Scott Clayton, executive director for the Joplin Area Habitat. “This is a program where families get involved.”
Once built, the homes are sold to the families for zero percent interest over 20 years and families also have to work “sweat equity” hours toward their home. A $3.6 million Community Development Block Grant was provided by the state to aid in the rebuilding.
The builds will officially begin this month, with the Chiefs starting on June 15, the Rams on June 21 and Mizzou students volunteering on June 22 and 29, Clayton said.