A local veteran and his family whose home was ruined by flooding and mold were on Friday given the keys to their new Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity home on New Hampshire Avenue.

Breanna and Jesse Arnold, a Marine veteran, said they were initially living in a fixer-upper home that they had invested in, but as they began to do renovations, more issues began to erupt. The roof was leaking, and the yard flooded, creating mold underneath the home. Breanna said their children were getting sick, which prompted her to fill out an application with Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” said Breanna. “We had put so much money into this house and now this was happening and our daughter with asthma was getting sick, which is mainly why I applied for Habitat, just to see what would happen.”

The Arnold family was handed the keys to their new home during a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday afternoon. They were also given a Bible from Joplin Habitat, which is presented to all new homeowners during the home dedication.

“This is a huge blessing for our family,” Jesse said to the crowd at the dedication.

Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian housing organization that helps build homes for Jasper County families in need of affordable shelter. Jesse Arnold had served in the Marine Corps from 2007 to 2011 as a welder and diesel mechanic. He said that he was motivated to join the service after seeing the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I had always wanted to be in the military,” said Jesse Arnold. “My older brother had told me he was going into the Marine Corps. We were in the weight room together in high school during 9/11. And we got pulled out of the weight room and into the library. We didn’t know what was going on. It was like we were watching a movie at first. We saw the second plane crash, and we realized it was real.”

Scott Clayton, executive director of Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity, said this is the organization’s third year of the Veterans Build Program, which provides homeownership opportunities to U.S. veterans, military service members and their families.

“For our Veterans Build, we find a partner in the community, who is General Mills this year,” said Clayton. “The General Mills Foundation supplied us with two grants of $50,000 to find a veteran to build for, and we put that company with a veteran to collaboratively build together.”

The Arnold family, who contributed sweat equity hours during the construction, now owns the nearly 1,500-square-foot home that was sold to them at no profit at a 0% interest mortgage. It has four bedrooms and two full baths. The walls were officially raised during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in January.

“It’s awesome, and we’re really excited,” said Jesse Arnold. “We put in a lot of hours ourselves in the home, and it’s been a long time coming. We’ve been waiting on it, and now it’s finally here.”

When the Arnold family applied with Habitat last year, the organization was seeking a veteran family for its Veterans Build Program. The home was made a reality through the General Mills grants. A General Mills employee also quilted the Arnold family a flag blanket.

“If it wasn’t for this, we would be renting and would’ve moved to Oklahoma,” said Breanna. “I was here when the tornado happened, so I knew what Joplin could do. But for them to come together, specifically for our family, makes me cry when I think about it because it’s amazing, just to know that strangers would do that for someone else.”

Zach Bennett, human resources manager at General Mills, said the foundation distributes approximately $200,000 to the community annually. General Mills has been a partner with Habitat for nearly 15 years, according to Isabel Quepons, General Mills plant manager in Joplin. She said there are 44 veterans employed at the Joplin plant.

“We believe that we’re part of the community and support the community where we live,” she said. “The community for us is very important. It’s not just about General Mills. It’s about making sure we progress together. At General Mills, we support veterans. This provides opportunity for our team members in the plant to come and work. We had 22 of our team members who came and participated in building the home.”

Clay Garner, Habitat volunteer, helped construct the home for the Arnold family and was present for the dedication Friday. He’s built homes for Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity over the past seven years.

“It was so nice working on this home because these people are so appreciative,” he said.

The backyard has a shed, a storm shelter and plenty of space for the Arnold’s five children to play. Parr Hill Park also is nearby.

Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity

Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1989. As of today, the organization has constructed 167 homes and helped with more than 300 repair projects for homeowners in Jasper County. The organization has two other homes nearing completion and five more homes planned to start this year.

If interested in learning more, call 417-782-6533 or visit its website at joplinhabitat.org

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.