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Two more tornado relief efforts started last week

Date: 4/17/2012

April 18, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — Two different efforts started last week to help address the continuing aftermath of the June 1, 2011 tornado.

In the area around Island Pond Road, four members of the Christian World Relief Committee — Disaster Response Service went door to door asking people if they still had unmet needs from the tornado.

The four volunteers were gathering information to compile an assessment for the Springfield Community Together Long Term Recovery Group, Jennifer Picard, a board member of the local organization explained.

Hank and Nancy Verkaik and David and Sandy Helder, all from Michigan, are no strangers to this kind of work. They were among the volunteers doing assessments after last year's tornados in Joplin, Mo., Birmingham, Ala., and Raleigh, N.C.

What they have been hearing is on-going struggles with insurance companies and difficulties with tree removal.

Speaking to Reminder Publications while on a break after canvassing homes off Arcadia Avenue, Sandy Helder noted the volunteers have two- week assignments in one area and are rotated in and out of service because of "emotional toll" the assessments have on the volunteers.

They heard from one woman whose insurance company refused to accept a hole in her home's wall was caused by tornado debris. Other people with whom they spoke described how they simply don't have the money to make all the repairs.

Hank Verkiak spoke of the number of homes abandoned by their owners.

Sandy Helder also noted of the many stories the volunteers were told of neighbors helping each other.

What also concerned the group were reports from West Springfield that following the tornado, rents went up in the Merrick section of the city where the tornado struck.


Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity announced its most ambitious home-building project last week. On June 1, Habitat volunteers will raise four houses at once and have the structures watertight within one week.

Habitat Board President Bob Perry said the chapter had been frustrated by its inability to help out with rebuilding after the tornado since home repair was not something it did.

Seeking a way to help, the chapter developed a "blitz build" for four houses that would be the new homes for tornado victims.

The announcement was made on the site for one of the homes on Quincy Street. The other homes will be built on lots on Mill Street, Leitch Street and Clayton Street.

Perry said the budget for the four homes was $600,000 and they began fund-raising for them in January. Currently the group is at between 70 and 80 percent of its goal.

Perry said a project such as this one "doesn't happen without a lot of work" and thanks the key partners in it, which include the City of Springfield, Babson Capital, National Stabilization Project Funds, Catuogno Court Reporting, TNT General Contracting, Lane Construction and Vartanian Cabinetry.

Besides local volunteers, Chapter Executive Director Jennifer Schimmel said that Habitat volunteers from Guatemala were coming to Springfield to assist. Springfield area volunteers had gone to that country last year to help with a home build.

The goal is to have all of the homes ready for the holidays, Perry said.

To apply for one of the homes, call the Habitat office at 739-5503. For information on volunteering, log onto its website at

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