The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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May 14, 2012

Tornado victim builds place where she, others can begin recovery

JOPLIN, Mo. — For the past year, Ann Leach has been making lemonade out of lemons. Last May, she was looking forward to expanding her grief and loss counseling business, Life Preservers, and attending a fall conference in Hawaii.

She had been renting a duplex in Duquesne for 14 years and was comfortable there. Then came May 22, when the EF-5 tornado that began in Joplin stormed across Duquesne.

Leach sought shelter in a bathroom and was spared injury as her home fell down around her. A few weeks later, Kansas City artist Matthew Dehaemers captured a portrait of Leach standing in all that remained: piles of rubble.

Picking up the pieces

She put her business on hold and began counseling herself.

This May, Leach opened a new business in a new home as part of a partnership that showcases other Joplin businesses.

As a life coaching counselor for 15 years, she had shifted gears in the past few years to focus on grief and loss. Leach, 58, is no stranger to the emotion. Her dad died when she was 8 years old, both grandfathers and a grandmother were gone by the time she was 16 and her mother lost a battle with cancer when Leach was 31.

As Leach began the process of sorting through her own grief from the loss of her home and much of her belongings, she realized that rebuilding her life and counseling others in their grief naturally coincided. She found what she called the “right and perfect place” in which to do both at 523 S. Sergeant; a 105-year-old craftsman bungalow with an inviting front porch near the edge of the historic Murphysburg neighborhood.

A place for relaxation

Leach converted the upstairs to two large bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen where guests can schedule a retreat to work on their own healing; she transformed the downstairs into her own living space.

She painted the walls a sunny yellow and named the place Creative Cottage, with the tagline, “Joplin is rebuilding and so can you: Come to this historic home with a strong foundation and work on rebuilding yours.”

During their retreat at Creative Cottage, Leach works with individuals or families to create a map of their next steps after a loss Ñ whether it be that of a loved one, a pet, a job, a home or another significant part of their life.

“I help them create a plan for a quiet recovery,” said Leach, who uses a five-step process to life coaching.

She outfitted the home in a blend of contemporary and antique decor Ñ eclectic would be an apt description Ñ to make it feel “relaxed, like a beach house.”

Her decor includes a motto she worked in cross-stitch at about age 27 and framed for her mother’s hospital room that reads, “This is a positive thinking area.”  The photograph of Leach standing in the rubble hangs to inspire others.

“If I can rebuild, so can they,” she said.

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