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Local coalition continues to help tornado victims

Date: 11/21/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — In July, MaryAnn Carroll was sitting outside thinking about the house on Bradley Road she and her husband, Terry Humphries, called home. Severely damaged by the June 1, 2011 tornado, the contractor they hired to repair it had left with more than $48,000 of their money. To make matters worse, the work he had done was sub-standard and incomplete.

"I thought the next step for us would be a motel on Riverdale Road," Carroll said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating her newly renovated home.

Springfield Community Together (SCT) learned of the couple's plight and undertook the effort to return them to their house before Thanksgiving. The volunteer organization, a coalition of local faith-based groups and social service agencies, were able to obtain for the couple $55,000 in assistance from the Massachusetts Disaster Fund and $15,000 in construction funding from the Tornado Response Home Rehabilitation Grant Program, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.

Adrian McCray, owner of Adrian Construction Company, then discounted his services by 20 percent and worked on an accelerated schedule to get the work completed by the holiday.

"Once I heard the story, it touched my heart," McCray said. His company repaired rafters, joists and support beams, and installed new windows, floors, walls, insulation, wiring, sheeting, and siding.

Pastor Tracy Johnson of the Christ Presbyterian Church noted the re-building of the home took on an additional urgency due to the family's situation. The couple was taking care of Carroll's terminally ill sister at the time of the tornado and wanted her to be able to spend her remaining days at home with her family.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, Humphries suffers from leukemia, heart disease, arterial sclerosis and diabetes, some of which are due to exposure to Agent Orange. Johnson said that during the time since the tornado, Humphries had to be put into a medically induced coma twice.

Humphries' ailments caused him to retire from his job as a certified special education teacher.

Describing their financial situation prior to the tornado, Humphries said, "We were very well prepared." He added that they had insurance and savings, but the weather and health events took a significant toll.

"We kept getting knocked down," he said.

They turned to SCT for help and received it.

"There were people who said, 'Try one more time' and they were right," Humphries said.

So far, SCT has helped 205 Springfield families deal with home repairs, tree and debris removal, landscaping and referrals for additional help and Johnson said much more work must be done. There is one more home rebuild the organization would like to undertake, as well as 18 partial rehabilitations.

Although much of the work is done with volunteer labor and donated or discounted supplies, Johnson said the group is running out of funding and is seeking $150,000 to carry the organization's efforts through May 2013.

Donations can be sent to Springfield Community Together's office at Christ Presbyterian Church, 1587 Allen St., Springfield, MA 01118.

Anyone interested in volunteering for rebuilding or debris clean up should visit or call 296-1052.