By Scott Meeker
When the trucks from Elgin, Ill., roll into Joplin in early June, they will be carrying more than just volunteers and a lot of good will.
The youth group from Elgin’s First United Methodist Church also will come bearing a house.
The group first traveled to Joplin in July 2011 and helped with debris cleanup after the May 22 tornado. In October of that year, the group returned to help a resident put siding on her house. Members came back for a third time in the summer of 2012 to help with rebuilding work.
“We worked on a couple of houses then, doing some rewiring and building stairs,” youth group leader Keith Duncan said of the last trip. “We decided, ‘Why don’t we try to build our own house?’”
Since February, members of the group have been framing sections of the house that will be assembled in the 1300 block of East 24th Street. They have been using their church basement as their work space, and they will begin another trip to Joplin on June 9 to build the house. When it is finished, it will be given to a resident who lost her home in the tornado.
“We’re excited because it’s something that hasn’t been done before,” said Doreen Finnie, development director for Rebuild Joplin, which has been working with the church group. “It’s such an interesting concept to have a group of volunteers give their time, their talent and bring a house with them.
“They had contacted us about volunteering, and through that conversation, they decided that they wanted to take it one step further. Thomas Corley, our client services director, went up there to give a presentation and meet them. It was a wonderful experience to meet them and see the enthusiasm of the group.
“We had an architect give them some basic house plans to facilitate the project, and they chose one of those plans.”
There are about 15 members of the youth group, ranging in age from 11 to 20. Duncan said that when they come to Joplin in June, they will be accompanied by at least that many adults who will help assemble the home.
“We’ve found that we have a lot of synergy between the adults and kids,” he said. “The adults can serve as mentors, and the kids give energy to the adults.”
Sarah Hansen, a member of the youth group, said the project has been a learning experience for everyone involved.
The 15-year-old said she came to Joplin in 2011 to help with debris cleanup and will return to help build the new home. The project, she said, came with something of a learning curve for many of the participants.
“A lot of us didn’t even know how to use a hammer,” Sarah said. “You have to hold the hammer 90 degrees to the nail. But we’re learning as we go. Being a high-schooler, you don’t think about doing something like building a house. I think it will be a really inspirational thing.”
Nick Iwanski, 15, said his first visit to Joplin after the tornado was an overwhelming experience.
“All of the destruction that just went on for miles ... it was really devastating,” he said.
Nick said his grandfather is an electrician, and working with him over the years had given him some basic experience working with tools and doing carpentry. Those skills have been put to use as the members of the youth group assemble sections of the home in the church basement.
“It’s a big honor to be able to do something to help build the town back,” Nick said. “I’m anticipating seeing what it’s going to look like when we get it all put together.”
Duncan said the project has been empowering for the members of his youth group.
“We’ve come a long way from where we started a few months ago,” he said. “Using a hammer was hard for some of them. But we have had adults in the trades here to mentor the kids. (The youths) have increased their skills, even though they don’t think they have sometimes.
“One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is the sense of self-esteem that the kids have gotten, and the confidence of building something and knowing this will be a house someone will live in.
“Kids get so wrapped up in social media and the minutia of the day. ... To have something like this that is way bigger than themselves is an empowering thing. It’s already started to change people, and they haven’t even seen the end product yet.”
Finnie said Rebuild Joplin has electricians and plumbers on staff who will take over once the framing is complete.
“We anticipate that when they leave, the walls will be up and the roof will be on,” she said. “Then, after that, the plumbers and electricians can work, and other volunteers can do the drywall and tiling to get it to the finish line.
“I can’t wait to see the trucks come into Joplin with all of the walls. This is so different and so exciting that other groups may decide to take on the challenge.”