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All-Star Build continuing work on Joplin homes

All-Star Build continuing work on Joplin homes

JOPLIN, Mo. -- Standing before a crowd of misty-eyed volunteers dressed in red t-shirts and donning hard hats, Joy Thompson told her story.

May 22, 2011 was her birthday. The mother of two had just dropped her children off at a friend's house nearby and was heading to the local theater to treat herself to a movie. But something told her to go back, pick her children up and head home. She calls it "mother's intuition."

Moments later they heard the warning sirens, and soon Thompson and her kids found themselves huddled in the closet beneath the stairs in their home as the tornado's 200 mile-per-hour winds ripped through their home and the surrounding area.

When the storm had passed, the home the Thompson's knew was no more, reduced to rubble, splintered wood and scattered belongings. What they still had, however, were their lives and each other.

"For some reason that day, the angels were just working so hard," Thompson said.

The unfortunate situation the Thompson's faced after the storm was not unique. In the Joplin area, some 7,500 homes were either destroyed or damaged and 161 people lost their lives due to the 13-mile-long swath left by a tornado last May 22.

But steps were made on Saturday toward getting the Thompson's back into a home, along with two other families. As a part of the All-Star Build program, Major League Baseball has partnered with Habitat for Humanity, the Players Trust and State Farm in constructing five brand new homes in Joplin for families who qualify for the housing.

MLB will also help in constructing four more homes in Tuscaloosa, Ala., which was devastated by tornados in April of 2011.

"It's incredible," said Scott Clayton, Executive Director of Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity. "It's not just hundreds, it's literally thousands. It's not a few people putting this together, it's the community. And it's not just this community, it's from around the world."

Joplin Area Habitat usually builds three to five houses a year, but this year the affiliate is on track to build 55 to 60 homes. The expedited process on the five homes on Connor Street in Joplin, at the heart of the tornado's damage where bare tree trunks still stick up out of the ground beside unrecognizable buildings reduced to cinderblock walls, would not be possible if it weren't for the collaborative effort of all parties in involved.

"We have a very deep history with Major League Baseball and Habitat," State Farm Agency field executive Glenda Beach said. "Each of us has our own strengths. So individually we're all very strong, but collectively, we're powerful."

A group of about 50 volunteers gathered on Saturday morning to continue working on three homes that previous volunteers had begun constructing on May 11. On the agenda was applying vinyl siding to the exterior of the homes, and beginning efforts on insulating the inside of the houses.

When Clayton asked the group if anyone in attendance was a vinyl siding expert before beginning construction, few raised their hands. But that was OK. The volunteers learned as they worked.

"We'll never turn anything down like this to help," said State Farm agent Jerry Poston while on a break from hammering nails into the side of one of the homes.

Also in attendance, representing the MLB Players Association, was former Montreal Expos All-Star pitcher Steve Rogers. The Missourian grew up in nearby Springfield -- located a little more than 70 miles east of Joplin -- and was excited to be able to lend a helping hand to the relief efforts.

"When you see the widespread swath, knowing that it spread some 13 miles, and you drive up and you see trees stripped and no houses and remnants of the hospital ... it's pretty stark," Rogers said. "It brings it home."

Matt McGee, a construction leader with Joplin Habitat for Humanity, said construction on the three-bedroom, two bathroom homes will hopefully be completed by July 6.

Two more of the homes will be framed near Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City during festivities for the 2012 All-Star Game on July 10 in hopes of raising more awareness for the tornado relief efforts. Those frames will be completed on-site and transferred to their future homes in either Joplin or Tuscaloosa.

Until then, volunteers will continue to work on the three homes in preparation for their incoming families.

Sabrina Hayes and her two-year old son will be moving into one of the houses. Hayes, who currently lives in a tight, uncomfortable FEMA trailer, is excited to have a full-sized bathtub and to no longer have to bathe her growing son in the kitchen sink.

Alyssa Gutierrez along with her husband and two young sons will be taking the third of the three houses and hopes to move in by early August. The family plans on taking advantage of having more space and will start a garden outside their new house.

"Oh my goodness ... we are so, so grateful," Gutierrez said. "You really realize how much you take for granted, and how thankful you are for the things you actually have after an experience like that. I just wake up every morning thankful."

Thompson's eight-year old daughter, Caillieya, took the opportunity to show her appreciation for the volunteers, help when her mother had finished addressing the crowd.

"Thank you everybody for supporting us, and to help us build our house," Caillieya said.

"This is not a house," Thompson's mother said amidst a loud applause as she smiled down on her daughter. "It's a home. It's a brand new home."

Mike Still is an associate reporter for