The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 22, 2012

Rams help on three homes as part of Governor's Joplin Challenge

By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer

— Tracy Andersen couldn’t contain her excitement.

She stood on the sidewalk with her new granddaughter in her arms Thursday afternoon as players and staff from the St. Louis Rams helped raise the walls of what will be her new home.

After lunch with the Rams at City Hall, Andersen came to a devastated area of south-central Joplin along with her daughter, Rachel, who will be a senior this fall at Joplin High School.

“She gets to have a home for her last year in high school,” Andersen said. “She’ll get to go to prom. See that wall they’re doing right there? That’s my bedroom wall.”

Thursday morning’s showers delayed the plans of the three busloads of players, staff, cheerleaders and other volunteers who represented the Rams.

While they waited for the weather to clear, the Rams went to the Boys and Girls Club of Joplin, where they participated in activities with an eager and energetic group of kids from the Joplin area.

“A week or so ago, we got a call and they said they would be interested in coming on a rain day,” said Rhonda Gorham, executive director of the club. “It rained today. The kids really enjoyed it. They were just thrilled.

“It really helps morale that people are still helping,” she said. “Kids are very resilent. They’ve had to deal with the loss of their friends. When storms roll through, they get a little edgy. We do have some kids in the FEMA trailers.”

After lunch, the Rams broke into three teams and worked at three sites alongside employees of Burkhart Construction of Joplin. Volunteers from Habitat for Humanity and Missouri Southern State University had the houses ready to assemble when the Rams arrived.

“We prebuilt the walls so they could stand all the walls and put the trusses on them,” said Tyler Burkhart, vice president of Burkhart Construction. “They all had a lot of fun and they were here to help. I always root for the Chiefs and the Rams because they’re from Missouri.”

One of the new homes will belong to Andersen, who was born in Long Beach, Calif. and lived in several cities in California.

“They tell you what to do during an earthquake, but a tornado is way scarier,” Andersen said. “I used to have panic attacks, just the wind blowing. You never really think it’s going to happen.”

Andersen and her family were home at 1831 Grand Ave. on May 22, 2011, when a mile-wide EF-5 tornado left behind a path of destruction six miles long through the city.

“When I heard the newslady say, ‘Oh, my God,’ my heart just sank,” Andersen said. “It was just seconds, then the cabinets started opening and closing and the ceiling was going up and down and up and down. Then everything imploded.

“It didn’t sound like a train. It sounded like something evil coming to get you,” she said. “I didn’t know tornadoes could open and shut your cabinets and make your walls move like your house is possessed.”

The Andersens live in a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency near the Joplin Regional Airport. Soon their new address will be 2322 S. Pennsylvania Ave.

“Someone said, “Aren’t you sad that you’re going to live in the devastation? And my daughter said, ‘That’s our home.’ I never thought I would be a homeowner. It’s just amazing. I can have a pretty bathroom.

“Through all this, it has shown me there are a lot of good people left in the world. Hopefully, after it’s all done, they can come back and see.”