With scoops of shoveled dirt and a long round of applause, a groundbreaking ceremony for the newest Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity house took place Monday morning in the 2400 block of South Pennsylvania Avenue.
As shovels bit into dirt, 5-year-old Dominic Sprague enthusiastically held up his arms as his smiling parents — Dillon Sprague and Kristen Asbell — looked on.
Roughly six months from now, the Sprague family will move into the four-bedroom house. And like previous Habitat families before them — the Diels, the Hurtts and the McBees, to name just a few — only then will the house truly become a home, said Scott Clayton, Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity’s executive director.
But Monday’s ceremony also marked the last home to be built using portions of the $2.475 million in donated funds to the Salvation Army for families affected by the May 22, 2011, tornado, said Maj. Phillip Aho, general secretary of the Salvation Army’s Midland Division.
Since the partnership between the two nonprofit organizations was first struck in 2013, and including the soon-to-be-built Sprague home, the Salvation Army has funded, via the contributions it received for tornado recovery, 18 Habitat homes, with three homes currently under construction, Clayton said. In addition, funds from the $2.475 million were used to build 44 public and private shelters in the Joplin area as well as 42 repair or renovation projects through the “A Brush with Kindness” Habitat program, which is one in which volunteers help low-income homeowners by undertaking light exterior repairs such as painting or landscaping.
“I almost have goose pimples because I’ve been working on these homes with Scott (since 2013),” Aho said Monday, lifting an arm. “You feel really good that families now have very fine homes and the community of Joplin is in much better shape than it was. We’re very pleased with that."
Aho twice used the word “great” to describe the unique relationship between the Salvation Army and the local Habitat chapter.
“At the very beginning I thought it was a matter of building houses,” Aho said. “But Habitat has taught me it’s more than just building houses. There is a world of difference between a house and a home. A home is made possible when more than a physical structure is present."
The Salvation Army received $6.46 million in donations from the public in response to the 2011 storm, Aho said. "And by the time these projects are all done, (the organization) will have expended $8.3 million," including an initial $2.5 million spent on emergency disaster relief, including food, hydration and basic items such as clothing and diapers in the days and weeks following the EF5 tornado strike.
“So we have made good on what the public has given — and more,” he said.
The Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity built 31 homes between 1989 and 2011, Clayton said. After the May 22, 2011, storm, Habitat and its partners have built 134 homes, which includes the Sprague home.
Clayton called Habitat’s partnership with the Salvation Army a “unique relationship.” Homes were built in financial installments, usually five new homes each time. For example, during a house dedication ceremony in November 2017, it was announced the construction of five homes — No. 13 through No. 17 — would be built in 2018. Last May, funding was made available by the Salvation Army to construct the final five homes, No. 18 through No. 22, in 2019.
Clayton praised the partnership, citing the tremendous good it’s brought to the community.
“It’s not often you see two organizations come together like this," he said. "It’s a unique partnership that developed here in Joplin."
“It was a great start, and to have success, and to build upon that success, building more, becoming more creative, adding tornado shelters — it really turned into a much larger partnership than maybe we initially thought.”
Kristen Asbell said Monday she’s excited to move into their future home in early 2020.
“We’ve (been) hoping for something a lot newer and nicer,” she said. “We haven’t been able to find anything large enough for us.”
Currently, the family is living in an old farmhouse outside Carthage. Recent flooding has only made things worse.
With the announced new home, “we’re pretty excited,” Asbell said.
“(Today), a family not only gets a house, but they’re able to create a home," added Aho.