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story.lead_photo.caption Construction manager Shane Spalding shows Annette Cunningham and Jamal Resonno how to measure scaffolding Saturday as crew members work on a River City Habitat for Humanity home along East Dunklin Street. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

A small private grant will allow River City Habitat for Humanity to prepare a house for a family displaced by the May 22 tornado.

Because it will be done through the Habitat for Humanity "Building on Faith" program, it should be completed quicker than other homes, according to Susan Cook-Williams, executive director of the local organization.

The grant and other efforts will help the organization gear up to assist more families faster after the storm, Cook-Williams said.

"It's been three months to the day — today — since the tornado happened," she said Thursday. "I think there are a lot of people in the community who think it is taken care of.

"There are still a lot of people who haven't found a permanent home, and the affordable housing in our town has been diminished."

The organization has been able to consistently put together four to five homes a year for low-income families, she said. In 27 years, it has turned over home keys to 109 families.

Building a home normally takes nine to 12 months, Cook-Williams said. It's a long time for someone who isn't in a permanent home to wait.

"Our job at Habitat for Humanity has always been important, but it has been raised since the tornado," she said. "We'll continue to do the houses that we normally do, but now also the houses for tornado survivors."

On Sept. 4, the organization will dedicate a larger home to a family of eight. It was a house that another family had received but that came back to the organization when the family split. The new family is lodged in the house under a rent-to-own contract. That will change to the typical purchase agreement the day of the dedication.

The organization is also renovating a house that was in the path of the tornado. The home at 809 Jackson St. had minimal external damage from the storm. However, previous owners had gutted the inside.

To quickly prepare a home for tornado victims, the organization will participate in the Building on Faith program.

"It is a house that we will try to do quicker than normal to get another tornado survivor in," Cook-Williams said.

Building on Faith is Habitat for Humanity International's annual celebration of its faith partners — an essential part of the organization's Christian ministry. The program is usually recognized the third week in September, when groups around the world are encouraged to host building projects and celebrations with their congregational partners.

However, River City Habitat for Humanity and partners will participate in the program all month long.

The organization is partnering with First Baptist, First Christian, First Methodist and First Presbyterian churches and the Knights of Columbus.

Partners are expected to work on the home every Thursday during the month.

There's also the potential for the local Long-Term Recovery Committee to assist in getting some help on the home and on other homes, Cook-Williams said.

Cook-Williams is involved with the committee, whose mission is to provide recovery services to people affected by the tornado and summer flooding or other community emergencies. It is holding a meeting 6:30 p.m. Monday at Memorial Baptist Church, 1120 Madison St. in Jefferson City. It is also holding a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Eldon Community Center, 309 E. Second St. in Eldon.

The committee is asking that people with specific skills to participate and join the effort. It is looking for people with experience in behavioral health, emotional health, case management, construction project management, fundraising, home repairs or building, or volunteer management.

"We're looking at people who can look at these houses and estimate repairs. Then we can go into the community and get help," Cook-Williams said.

Help will come in many forms, she said.

Getting advice from people who have gone through the same issues can help the community avoid road bumps. So, shortly after the storm, she reached out to Scott Clayton, director of the Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity.

On May 22, 2011 — exactly eight years before Jefferson City's tornado — an EF-5 tornado hit Joplin. Packing winds of more than 200 mph, the twister was responsible for more than 160 deaths, 1,150 injuries and $2.8 billion in damage.

"When the tornado happened here, we were increasing our homes from one to two a year, to three to four," Clayton said. "We had the model. We just had to take it times 10."

Through partnerships and a lot of volunteer work, the organization has built 132 new homes since the storm.

"We ramped up our efforts to rebuild Joplin," he said. "From that tragic day, we are where we're at today — a town in a much better state."

Before the storm, a high percentage of Joplin residents rented homes, and the market was short of rental properties anyway.

"The major need was new home construction," Clayton said. "Years following — we looked at the need, which was not tornado-related anymore — we realized we needed to start doing rehabs and repairs."

Habitat for Humanity International "jumped right in" after the Jefferson City tornado and asked how it might help the city, Cook-Williams said.

One of the benefits of an organization like Habitat for Humanity is it loosens income guidelines following disasters. Another is it connects affiliates following disasters, she said.

"Our towns and our tornadoes were very different," she said. "At the same time, (Clayton) has been a wonderful sounding board since right after the tornado."

Clayton will be the keynote speaker during "Our Road to Recovery," a luncheon in which he'll discuss how Joplin rebuilt after the tragedy and what Jefferson City can do to get back to where it was and beyond.

The event is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Sept. 24 at Capital Bluffs Event Center, 1616 Oilwell Road in Jefferson City.

Tickets are $25 and may be purchased at

"Even the average person will find his presentation interesting," Cook-Williams said. "We can always use a glimmer of hope — to know that things will get better."

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