Though there are still a few repair tasks that will occur in the next few months, with this home completion, the Long-Term Recovery Organization is now in what officials are calling “hibernation mode.”
That is not to indicate LTRO is not still in existence … just that it will not be involved in any projects arising from damages caused by storms of April 27, 2011, or March 2, 2012.
“We are not in operation as we have been, with an office and involved in working with others on these home builds, but we are still here,” said LTRO Director Jim Polier. “If the need arises, the LTRO can go into operation at a moment’s notice.”
This is due to the collaborative effort of many who started working on long-term recovery immediately after the April 27 tornadoes. This effort led the Federal Emergency Management Agency to point to Bradley County as a model for recovery planning following such a disaster.
“FEMA told us that you can expect to be back to your ‘new normal’ in three to five years, and we are only two years from those April tornadoes that devastated our community,” said Matt Ryerson, United Way of Bradley County president and CEO, and member of the LTRO board of directors. “They were so impressed with our work — the way the community rallied to help those affected by the storms — and the plan we put into action to help these survivors.”
The collaboration within the community was key. From the LTRO to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Men and Women of Action, the Bradley Baptist Association and others, to businesses such as Kace Construction, Whirlpool Corporation and Caldwell Paving, and those making financial donations such as Life Care Centers of America and Broad Street United Methodist Church, it was a team effort. Many others, based locally and in nearby states, gave their talents to helping in the recovery efforts.
“We can’t say enough about the way this community worked together to help their neighbors,” said Matt Carlson, Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland executive director and co-chair of the LTRO Board (with Jake Stum). “We have seen this in other projects in our community, but maybe never to the extent we saw in aiding our tornado survivors.”
Carlson added, “That’s how we were able to help so many, including Jessie Scruggs, whose home we just dedicated last week.”
Scruggs lost her home in the Bates Pointe Subdivision in the last of the tornadoes that struck the area two years ago. That was the same tornado that struck the Durkee Road and Spring Place Road area, then traveled north to eventually devastate the Willbrook subdivision off U.S. Highway 64.
LTRO developed a set of procedures to follow for those seeking assistance — primarily people without enough insurance to cover expenses. Those requests ranged from home replacements to home repairs, and each was analyzed carefully to ensure those receiving help were truly in need and had extremely limited, if any, resources.
In the case of Jessie Scruggs, it was more fate than actual seeking assistance that led her to the new place she now calls home.
“I know Jessie from the dry cleaners, and she has always been very nice to me and very interested in how my music career is going,” remembered Cleveland resident Joe-Joe Collins. “After the tornado hit, I found out from her that she had lost just about everything. She was very distraught, as you can imagine, and I just developed a soft spot for her in my heart.”
Collins’ band — The Collins Brothers Band — had performed several benefit shows to aid tornado victims, but hearing Scruggs’ plight led him to do even more.
“I told her that I was going to pursue some help for her and that weekend we were doing a show and my good friend Ross Tarver was there. I told him Jessie's story and he agreed that she was worthy of help and he told me he would get the ball rolling on Monday,” Collins said.
He added, “What was amazing to me was that Ross' family was a recent storm victim also, yet he immediately went to bat for someone else.”
Tarver contacted Ryerson, who eventually spoke with LTRO and the initiative was launched.
Property was located, work was performed, and on April 18, the keys to the house were handed over to Scruggs in a special ceremony.
“I want to thank everyone, and thank God, for everything,” she said, holding back tears at the ceremony. “I am so thankful, and so blessed.”
“I am so proud that Jessie got her new house and that things have worked out,” Collins said. “She is one of the good ones. She doesn’t want handouts. She is a hard worker and a great citizen of Cleveland and it’s nice to know that someone as deserving as her gets our help.”
Scruggs’ emotions and words mirrored what has been seen at other home dedications which began in December 2011 when Tim Garrett and his son and daughter moved into their new home on Lead Mine Valley Road. Their previous home had been destroyed by the April 2011 tornadoes, as had the Yarber family’s home just north of the Garrett home.
The Yarbers not only lost a home, but lost a family member. Lisa Yarber Pack was one of nine people to die in the tornadoes that hit Bradley County in the April 2011 barrage.
Ray and Tammy Tallent had their home which sustained tremendous damage from the April storms replaced, while Dan Wagner and Geraldine Caudill lost their mobile home in the tornado that devastated the area between Blue Springs Road and Spring Place Road. With the two utilizing walkers for stability, their new home also included a much-needed ramp.
Perhaps the most touching dedication came when Rosie Miller moved into her new home near Charleston. She was another survivor of the April 27 tornadoes, and the home she moved into was the first house she actually owned. Tears of joy were mixed with tears of thanks when she was given the keys to the home.
Travis and Sara Beth Burns lost their home in the April 27 storms, and while they were able to stay with family for weeks, they and their two children had only confined quarters, which included a small room for sleeping. With the help of the community, they rebuilt on the same property where they lived before, directly adjacent to Sara Beth’s grandparents.
There were other home builds, and each has its own story. And, they were all possible through the efforts of the community, according to LTRO and United Way officials.
“I worked so closely with these families, and to see them finally move into their new homes, with appliances furnished by Whirlpool and new furniture, makes me glad I am a part of this caring community,” said Lisa Mantooth, who served as LTRO case manager supervisor.
“I have to say that as emotional as the survivors were when they finally moved into their new homes, I was just as emotional for knowing their situations and seeing them so happy,” she added.