By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Seven-year-old Vanessa Garrison spelled out her feelings in sparkling silver glitter on blue poster board.
“Thank You,” read the sign she carried as new starts for 10 tornado-displaced families were celebrated Thursday.
The celebration was the dedication ceremony for the next-to-last phase of the Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity’s Governor’s Challenge. Five houses each were built in the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals neighborhoods, and they now are ready to occupy.
“In our dreams we didn’t think we’d get to own our own home,” said Vanessa’s mother, Erika Garrison. “It is the greatest gift from God.”
Her family and several of the other families that are buying the houses have been living in mobile homes provided as temporary housing by the Federal Emergency Management Agency since losing their homes in the 2011 tornado. Some of the displaced families have moved around, staying with family or friends or just where they could.
Gov. Jay Nixon called on the state’s sports teams to help build 35 Habitat houses as a way to help spur recovery from the tornado. With the dedications on Thursday, 29 of the 35 are finished. There are some last touches to be done to one house in the St. Louis Rams neighborhood that will bring the total to 30. Then will come the last phase of the project, five houses in the NASCAR neighborhood.
Sallie Hemenway of the Missouri Department of Economic Development thanked Habitat associates and volunteers for “succeeding and exceeding the expectations of the Governor’s Challenge.”
Larry Warren, a Habitat board member and president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, told the crowd that the Habitat homes are not handouts.
“They do work for them,” he said. “They don’t just get them for free.”
Those who buy Habitat houses receive financing for the purchase price of about $60,000 at no interest for 20 years, but they put 300 hours of “sweat” equity into building their own homes, helping others, and training for home maintenance and ownership along with learning how to best deal with budgeting and family finances.
Scott Clayton, executive director of Habitat, said a total of 71 houses will have been built by Habitat since the tornado by the time the city observes the second anniversary of the devastating storm on May 22.
“A lot of great work has been done, but there is more to do,” Clayton said.
Families whose homes are located in the Royals neighborhood:
• Erika Garrison and David Masteller, 2508 S. Picher Ave.; Leslie Garcia, 2510 S. Picher Ave.; Phuc Nguyen and Dung Pham, 2422 S. Picher Ave.; Melinda Blankenship, 2420 S. Picher Ave.; and Dawn and Chris Redding, 2414 S. Picher Ave.
Those in the Cardinals neighborhood:
• Ciera and Tay Love, 2228 S. Joplin Ave.; Bree O’Haro, 2314 S. Joplin Ave.; Camilla Smith, 2428 S. Joplin Ave.; Kevin and Trisha Brock, 2324 S. Wall Ave.; and Sharon Brumley, 2412 S. Wall Ave.