By Jeff Lehr
Between the school groundbreaking ceremonies in the morning and the Walk of Unity across Joplin on Tuesday afternoon, you could hear the hammers pounding at the corner of Wall Avenue and 24th Street.
A welcome sound indeed to Chris Tucker, Leilani Powell and their three children on the one-year anniversary of the tornado that caused extensive damage to their current rental home and belongings, and destroyed so much of their town.
For this will be their new home that Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity is building at 2401 S. Wall Ave. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom house could be ready by the end of June.
“Oh, I’m far more than excited,” Tucker said as he watched Gov. Jay Nixon and the governor’s wife, Georganne, join other volunteers in nailing siding on the home.
He said the family members had just moved into their current home at 1909 S. Wall Ave. a week before the tornado. The storm broke out all the windows, tore up the roof and ruined almost all their possessions. They’ve continued staying there for a year, he said, despite the house’s electrical problems and remaining vulnerability to the elements. But they are eager to get their new place five blocks to the south.
“This is going to save us so much money,” Tucker said. “We pay a lot at the other house for utilities with it not being weatherized.”
The house is one of 16 that Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity has under construction in the city. The organization already has completed 14 others and will be kicking off the Governor’s Joplin Habitat Challenge in mid-June. The project aims to build 35 more houses in the city’s tornado-affected area with a $3.6 million Community Development Block Grant and the help of seven sports organizations.
The governor and the state’s first lady donned tool belts and picked up hammers to help out on the home for about half an hour Tuesday. Nixon said he was there to do something “tangibly productive,” and to let other volunteers know this was not his first time on a job of this type. He worked construction for seven years putting himself through college, he said.
“I’ll get better,” he let onlookers know after his first few swings of the hammer.
At one point, the governor took a break to pose for a photo with Sage Welch, a boy who showed up with his mother to present a $5,000 check to Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity. The money was raised at the family’s annual memorial golf tournament honoring the boy’s late uncle, Mark Welch, at the Honey Creek Golf Club in Aurora.
The governor praised what Habitat for Humanity is accomplishing in Joplin.
“It is an organization with deep roots in churches and communities across the country,” Nixon said.
Teams on track
GOV. JAY NIXON said he spoke Monday with the owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, and everything remains on track for the Joplin Habitat Challenge. The Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Rams, St. Louis Blues, Kansas Speedway in partnership with NASCAR, and the University of Missouri athletic teams will be contributing labor and support to the effort to build 35 homes in seven neighborhoods.
NIXON SAID THE CHIEFS will be coming to Joplin in June, and the Rams and Cardinals later in the year. He said continuing support for the effort from Major League Baseball will include this year’s All-Star Game on July 10 in Kansas City.