By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
More than the weather was misty Friday as five families celebrated the completion of their Habitat for Humanity homes just in time to have Christmas in the Mizzou neighborhood of the Governor’s Challenge.
New homeowner Melinda Underwood, at 2601 S. Pennsylvania Ave., said she promised herself she was not going to cry anymore over the losses her family sustained in the 2011 tornado and for the joy she, her husband and five children have experienced from the outpouring of assistance.
In the duplex where they lived before it was destroyed in the storm, they were crowded and had little privacy, Underwood said.
“We have places for everything in our home and now we have a place in our heart for Habitat and Mizzou,” she told celebrants at the dedication of the University of Missouri Tigers section.
It is the second section of homes built in Joplin through an effort by Gov. Jay Nixon who called on the state’s athletic teams to each lead a section of rebuilding through the Habitat program. The first section, sponsored by the Kansas City Chiefs, was dedicated a month ago.
The governor asked Mizzou, the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals as well as the St. Louis Rams, Cardinals and Blues to lend their names and labor to build a total of 35 houses for Habitat.
“We’re really excited to be a part of the Governor’s Challenge,” said another homeowner, Christine Taylor, of 2619 S. Virginia Ave., crediting the governor for his work to help rebuild Joplin. “He is going to make sure this town bounces back,” she said.
Taylor, her husband, Larry Fickle, and their 7-year-old son, Dalton, learned from the experience, she said. “We built friendships. We learned the value of volunteering in our community, and we’ve learned that people have big hearts,” she said. “We have nothing but love and gratitude for all the volunteers.”
As for the participation of Mizzou, “We are big fans. They are awesome,” she said. “We never miss a game now. We gather around the TV now and cheer for them.”
It also has been an important event in Dalton’s life. “I love this house so much,” he said.
Mike Alden, athletic director at MU, told the celebrants, “What an awesome view it was when we pulled in today and saw the neighborhood.” There were 150 student-athletes and MU staff who made four trips to Joplin to help with construction. He said that MU also conducted the “1 State, 1 Spirit, 1 Mizzou” campaign that raised $250,000 for tornado relief.
“They worked so hard in the summer heat,” said Underwood of the Mizzou volunteers.
Another one of the home buyers, Annette Webb, of 2615 S. Virginia Ave., said she is grateful to the Habitat organization for helping her buy a house rather than renting again. “The Habitat people helped us in every way to make sure we got a place,” she said.
Jessica Carroll, of 2610 S. Pennsylvania Ave., said she is thankful for her house. Her 5-year-old daughter, Rhianna, chimed in with her feelings too. “I love my home,” she told the crowd.
Habitat finances the houses for 20 years and charges no interest on the loans. The buyers work off their down payment through sweat equity, and attending classes or working on projects to improve their family budgets and financial obligations.
Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean said Habitat’s program “continues to grow Joplin. There are a lot of people in need, and the Governor’s Challenge is wonderful,” she said.
Each dedication “gives you hope and lets you know people still care. There are still a lot of families in need, but it’s a start. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
Scott Clayton, executive director of the Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity, said Friday that 38 houses have been completed and 33 more are nearly finished in the Habitat rebuilding program.