When a series of tornadoes battered Central Oklahoma last spring, close to 4,500 houses were damaged or destroyed. Six months later, many organizations are helping rebuild these homes and restore normalcy to the affected families. One of those organizations, Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity, has just finished its first home for one couple affected by the storms.
Months after their doublewide trailer in Bethel Acres was destroyed by a tornado, Joel and Bettie Spears watched a construction crew break ground on their new home. With work due to be completed by November 15, the couple was excited for their lives to return to normal. The Thanksgiving holidays
“So that’s right around Thanksgiving. You guys have Thanksgiving plans?” I asked Spears. “Not yet,” Joel said before being interrupted by his wife Bettie. “I’ve already invited my whole family,” she said. “Well, it’s news to me but ok,” Joel responded while laughing.
The two had lived in this part of Bethel Acres for over a decade. When the storms came through back in May, they went into a neighbor’s shelter. When they emerged, they found their 2,000 square foot trailer had been uprooted by the storms. There was no roof, and inside, the damage was substantial.
“If it was breakable, it broke. If it was plastic, it was everywhere,” Bettie said.
Shortly after the disaster, their daughter-in-law came up with a plan to get them back up on their feet.
“All I know is she came and asked me what our proof of income was, and I told her,” Joel said. “And she said, ‘Ok, that’s all I want.’ And I said, ‘Hey! What for?’ She said, ‘You’ll find out.’ Ok, well a couple of weeks later I found out.”
What Joel found out was that his family had been selected to receive the first Habitat for Humanity home for tornado survivors.
Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity CEO Ann Felton said she was thrilled to finally get started on the construction.
“This build today is a very special build because it’s the first build for a family that was affected by the tornadoes,” Felton said. “It will be just one of many, but it is the kickoff of our first house, so we’re all pretty excited about this and appreciate the opportunity to be able to help this family.”
With assistance from Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City, Habitat was able to facilitate what it called a blitz build, where volunteers construct an entire home in just a few weeks.
The Spears already owned the land on which their house was being built, and Bettie said they had always imagined having a house on this part of the property, just 100 yards from where they lost their doublewide.
“Actually, when we first moved out here, when we bought our mobile home, our dream was to build a house right here,” Bettie said.
Joel recognized the plan had taken a detour, but he was grateful to be where he was.
“Well, it’s not quite the way we had planned, but oh well,” Joel said. “It’s getting done. Wasn’t anything we could do about the tornado thing except just get out of its way, just let it go.”
Three weeks later, with construction nearing completion, people filled the Spears’ new home for a dedication celebration. They wiped their shoes carefully before entering and brought welcome mats, groceries and a Bible for the new homeowners. The couple could barely find words to express their sense of gratitude.
“It’s a great day,” Joel said.
Joel and Bettie weren’t the only ones who were surprised by the speed of the build. Crossings Community Church Associate Pastor Jeff Stewart was also impressed.
“It’s amazing to see a house go from basically a slab in three weeks and get to what we have with a nice brick structure,” Stewart said. “It’s thrilling for us to be a part of it. It’s a real honor.”
On November 15, the couple finally settled into their new, brick home. During construction, Joel and his wife had to commit to 50 hours of what Habitat calls sweat equity. But in actuality, they put in closer to 80. Now, the Spears get to pay off their house without interest.
There’s still a long way to go in rebuilding. Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity has already started on two more houses and plans to build up to 400 homes for area families over the next three to five years.