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story.lead_photo.caption The Rev. Cassandra Gould sprinkles holy water on the ground in front of Reggie Lewis Jr. and Akisha Pinnell's new home. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Akisha Pinnell and Reggie Walls Jr. received a pair of blessings Monday night — they got married and took possession of the keys to their new home.

A year ago, they were just trying to survive after a tornado displaced them from their home.

The May 22, 2019, tornado that wrecked homes from Eldon to Jefferson City nearly destroyed the home they lived in on Jackson Street. It frightened Pinnell so much she went into labor. Doctors were able to delay her delivery, but the couple's new twins arrived two weeks later. Shortly after the disaster, Habitat for Humanity helped the couple get into a rental property, but recognized the family needed a better home, said Susan Cook-Williams, executive director of River City Habitat for Humanity.

"Once we moved them into a different apartment after the tornado, we saw it wasn't a very good apartment," Cook-Williams said.

Missouri Faith Voices Executive Director Cassandra Gould said conversations with the family demonstrated the home they rented left them in "horrible conditions."

They were a clear fit for the home they received Monday at 809 Jackson St., Cook-Williams said.

Gould conducted a blessing of the family, their new home and the property it stands on Monday afternoon, spreading holy oil she acquired in Israel as she prayed to God before the couple received the keys to their new home.

"Fill the house with laughter, God. Fill the house with joy, God," she said. "Fill the house with peace, God."

More than 60 people lined Jackson Street, showing support as the couple received their house.

The Rev. Kimberley Woodruff said as she prepared to hand over the keys that she was blessed and honored to take the journey with the couple. She described them as a second family.

"This has been an amazing ride. We've had some early morning prayers and late-night prayers," Woodruff said. "And early morning tears and late-night tears."

No one today is more deserving to have a beautiful home, she said.

Immediately following the first ceremony, Pastor Moses Carbin married the couple on their new porch.

On Wednesday, Habitat for Humanity is officially beginning its "Road to Recovery" homes — four homes above the four to five it normally builds each year. The program is intended to help offset a housing shortage in Jefferson City that the tornado exacerbated.

It is going to highlight work that has already begun on the homes at 415 E. Ashley St., and 904, 914 and 916 Jackson St.

Each home is expected to cost about $100,000 to complete ($400,000 total). The nonprofit has raised approximately $320,000 toward the homes.

To find out how to volunteer or to donate, visit rivercityhabitat.org.

Thrivent Financial is sponsoring its 14th River City Habitat for Humanity homes, and provided $60,000 for one of the homes to be built during the Road to Recover. It is sponsoring the home at 914 Jackson St., where Habitat received the donation of a damaged house. That house has been torn down, and is being replaced.

First Christian Church is sponsoring the house at 916 Jackson St. The church is providing labor to help build the house.

The house at 415 E. Ashley is considered the Mayor's Challenge. Mayor Carrie Tergin is asking the community, as a whole, to get involved in construction of the home, Cook-Williams said.

Habitat for Humanity is searching for a sponsor for the home at 904 Jackson St. Of the Road to Recovery homes, it is the only one that will be two stories tall.

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