The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 2011 Joplin tornado

March 19, 2013

Rebuild Joplin celebrates opening of 59th house

Tornado organization committed to effort as long as need exists

JOPLIN, Mo. — They still want a grassy front lawn and a privacy fence, but Wesley and Susie Lamarr are otherwise back home.

“I thank everybody at Rebuild Joplin, and I thank all the volunteers,” Susie Lamarr said Tuesday at her rebuilt house in the 1900 block of Illinois Avenue. “I love this new home. It’s great.”

Rebuild Joplin was the host for a housewarming and ribbon-cutting Tuesday for the Lamarrs, who are among the dozens of clients that its staff and volunteers have helped move home in the 22 months since the May 2011 tornado. The organization itself has undergone a transformation since it was created nearly two years ago and has now rebuilt or repaired 59 houses for clients.

The Lamarrs were at home at the time of the tornado on May 22, 2011. Susie Lamarr, who sought shelter in the bathtub, said the bathroom was untouched, but the tornado ripped the roof off the house, uprooted parts of the concrete flooring in places such as the laundry room and shattered the windows. It also dropped an RV on their back porch, but the couple walked away largely unhurt, she said.

The Lamarrs camped in a tent in their front yard for a few weeks after the tornado before moving temporarily into an RV. They also moved among several rental homes in the nearly two years since the tornado, and on Tuesday they were happy to be back in a permanent house.

Officials said 95 volunteers from eight states donated 1,500 hours of work to the house’s construction, saving an estimated $33,000 in labor costs.

Rebuild Joplin has its house-building steps down to a science, but it hasn’t always been that way. The organization was created immediately after the tornado by Jerrod Hogan, who is now its executive director. It initially was a website that served as a central source of information about tornado relief efforts. The site also was a sort of middleman, connecting survivors and volunteers with the organizations that could assist them, said Doreen Finnie, development director.

The website eventually evolved into a fully fledged organization with the specific mission of rebuilding or repairing homes for tornado victims, Finnie said.

“Once they got out of that immediate crisis mode, they looked at what was the biggest need, and the biggest need was housing,” she said.

Rebuild Joplin now operates with a paid staff of eight to 10, and a volunteer staff from AmeriCorps of about 35 to 40, Finnie said. It is funded and sponsored by several companies, including Toyota, which also has worked with the organization on fine-tuning its methods to oversee the houses’ construction from start to finish, she said.

“They’re not telling us how to do the physical work better; they’re telling us how to do the processes better,” she said.

Toyota’s influence is apparent on the walls of the Rebuild Joplin office at Seventh Street and Illinois Avenue, which are filled with large flow charts and tables, coded by color and containing at-a-glance information on each client.

One dry-erase board in the construction room charts day-by-day goals, actual completed work and numbers of volunteers at each work site. A flow chart on the opposite wall gives a timeline of the entire home-building effort from “application processing” to “housewarming,” and labels all major milestones, such as “estimates,” “site prep” and “framing.” A notecard with each client’s name and address is affixed to the appropriate slot along the timeline, allowing anyone with Rebuild Joplin to quickly track where each client is on the steps.

Another giant wall chart tracks volunteer numbers over the next six months, which are expected to be busy. According to the chart, 165 volunteers per day are in Joplin this week, largely because of spring break for schools, while close to 500 volunteers per day are expected during one week in July.

Finnie said Rebuild Joplin is still accepting clients. Some, including the Lamarrs, have gotten the keys to brand-new homes that were built from the ground up. Others, especially more recent clients, have started reporting and seeking assistance with substandard repair work that was completed on their homes in the wake of the tornado, she said.

Finnie said anyone with a housing need is encouraged to contact Rebuild Joplin, even if assistance has been denied by another agency.

“So many people don’t realize that we can help them,” she said, “so we’re trying desperately to get the message out to just come talk to us.”

The organization also is launching a new program that seeks to turn renters into homeowners, said Thomas Corley, client services manager.

Through the program, Rebuild Joplin will build a new house with its volunteers and resources that then will be sold to a family or individual who was renting at the time of the tornado, he said. Three houses are under construction, and Rebuild Joplin is looking for qualified buyers, he said.

“So long as there is a need, we want to offer this option,” Corley said.

Finnie said Rebuild Joplin has a “shelf life” in that its reason for existing is getting tornado-affected residents back into their homes.

“When we feel that we’ve completed our mission, we will close,” she said.

Text Only
May 2011 Joplin tornado
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    After a slow start early in this fiscal year for Joplin, the construction of new houses has resumed at the pace that existed in fiscal year 2013, when permits for new houses averaged more than 16 per month. Since November, the beginning of Joplin’s fiscal year, permits for 118 houses have been issued for a total cost of $12.8 million. The average value has been about $108,000.

    June 11, 2014

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    May 22, 2012 1 Photo

  • 060314 Farmers rebuild 1_72.jpg Farmers Insurance writes manual based on experience from Joplin disaster recovery

    Joplin’s housing recovery from the 2011 tornado is one for the books. Jeff Dailey, CEO of Farmers Insurance, announced Tuesday that not only will Farmers Insurance stick with Rebuild Joplin to repair and replace the homes left on the local group’s waiting list, but the company also will kick off a similar recovery effort today for the city of Sea Bright, New Jersey, based on a book it has written to expedite disaster recovery that is based on its experience in Joplin.

    June 3, 2014 2 Photos

  • r052214butterflygarden.jpg New park feature opens on tornado anniversary to encourage healing

    Cunningham Park has become an emotional place for Pamela Praytor. The name of her son, Christopher Lucas, is engraved on a monument that stands in the park in memory of the 161 people who were killed in the May 2011 tornado. “Even though I cry when I come, it’s OK,” she said. “It’s part of the healing.”

    May 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • r051214greenbldgs3.jpg Home, business cited as examples of energy efficiency, strength

    Ramona and Charles “Hugh’’ Shields were not the least bit reluctant on Monday to open their new house in the tornado zone to a bunch of strangers who had a lot of questions. “I used to live in a house where I had to wear two pairs of socks in the winter to keep my feet warm — not anymore,’’ said Ramona Shields. “This house is nice and warm in the winter, and nice and cool in the summer.’’

    May 12, 2014 2 Photos

  • Mercy Health System to receive $23 million FEMA grant

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide Mercy Health System of Joplin with $23 million in public assistance funding by the end of the year. The disaster relief was announced Friday by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

    April 25, 2014

  • Respond With Love flower.jpg Joplin pays it forward with flowers; residents asked to return bulbs ‘fostered’ for other towns

    Suzan Morang’s front yard bloomed brightly last year from a colorful array of bulbs that she will happily pass on to someone else this year. Morang, 1207 Xenia Court, is a participant in America Responds With Love, a national nonprofit organization that distributes bulbs to disaster-stricken cities.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Creator of Joplin-based ‘Dear World’ exhibit features Boston bombing victims in new work

    The messages written on the skin of some Boston Marathon victims may be different, but Joplin residents will recognize the handwriting. Robert X. Fogarty, the creator of the “Dear World: From Joplin with Love” exhibit, took his signature style of photography and inspiration to Boston. Fogarty traveled to Joplin in 2011 and took pictures of community members with inspirational messages written on their bodies in black ink.

    April 21, 2014

  • r041414wildwood.jpg Opening of nursing home another recovery milestone

    Gladys Dutton has done a lot of things in her life, but Monday’s dedication of the Communities at Wildwood Ranch nursing home marked a first. “I’ve never cut a ribbon before,” she said. “I hope I do a good job.” Dutton was one of four residents to participate in the opening of the $8.5 million nursing center that eventually will be home to 120 people.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Joplin Redevelopment Corp. preparing for first property sale

    The first sale of property from the Joplin Redevelopment Corp. to Wallace Bajjali Development Partners is scheduled for May 16. The city staff will be working to prepare for that sale, it was discussed on Tuesday at a meeting of the JRC.

    April 9, 2014

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