By Ryan Richardson
JOPLIN, Mo. —
With empty lots, the remnants of foundations and the frames of houses in the infancy of their construction around them, members of Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity celebrated the completion of five new houses Tuesday afternoon.
Standing among the people on hand for the dedication ceremony for a home at 2411 S. Murphy Ave. were 21-year-old Dakota Wilson, the owner of the new home, and his mother, Michelle Wilson. They were next to a truck filled with the first load of furniture that they will move into their new home.
Tuesday marked a 20-month journey that landed Wilson in the newest Habitat for Humanity house. His residence at 20th Street and Connecticut Avenue was destroyed by the May 2011 tornado. Since then, the lifelong resident of Joplin has dealt with many people who were left without their homes since the tornado.
“This was a long process to get here since that day,” Wilson said. “We’ve moved a lot since the tornado, and we had to deal with where we could live until now. It really puts things at ease to walk into a home that you now own. We’re thankful and grateful that we are here now.”
Scott Clayton, director of Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity, said Tuesday’s celebration marked the opening of five new homes that are part of the Governor’s Joplin Challenge.
“There are two time periods for us — before and after the tornado,” Clayton said. “We were averaging three to four houses before the tornado, but with the outpouring of so many volunteers, we have managed to put up 52 new homes with 20 more under construction.”
The Governor’s Joplin Challenge was set up in 2012 by Gov. Jay Nixon to spur rebuilding efforts throughout the area. The original goal of the project was 35 homes throughout seven different neighborhoods in the destruction zone. Players, coaches and alumni from Missouri sports teams joined in the effort, including the St. Louis Blues, who volunteered last summer at Wilson’s home.
“It’s ironic that a team that plays hockey was here during the 106-degree work days,” Clayton said. “But without their help, along with the other teams that volunteered, we wouldn’t be as far along as we are today.”
Abby Evers, who represented Nixon’s office, commended the work that Habitat for Humanity has done in the area.
“We want to congratulate the new owners here today and the work that the Blues did here,” Evers said. “It’s amazing hearing the amount of homes that have been built and to see the new houses coming up. Habitat isn’t just building homes, they are building neighborhoods.”
For Wilson, the rebuilding is indicative of the perseverance of Joplin residents.
“I knew Joplin was strong, but I would have never thought it would come back this quick,” he said. “That’s the strength of the people here in the Midwest. That’s Joplin strong.”
AS PART OF THE AGREEMENT for the new owners, they are required to put in volunteer hours, or “sweat equity,” at Habitat for Humanity projects. Ashli Robinson, a recipient of one of the new Habitat homes, said she put in the required 300 volunteer hours with her two children, Garren, 7, and Jadyn, 13.
“WE TOOK PRIDE in helping others, and it made us appreciate that much more the house that we are moving into,” Robinson said. “We’ve become family with the other volunteers on these projects. This is something that we will keep volunteering for.”