Memories line this house in Griffin, Georgia, clinging to the walls like family portraits in frames, revealing scenes from life over the years – dinner cooking, friends stopping by, shared holidays and shared moments of grief.
That’s why it was particularly painful to the home’s owners, Bobby and Anita Simpson, when the tornado that touched down in Spalding County two weeks ago ripped through their property on its impartial path.
“It’s been in the family since 1949,” Anita Simpson said of the home. “I raised my kids here. I took care of my father-in-law for two months here when he had prostate cancer. He passed away here.”
She motioned to a short tree stump adjacent to the property.
“That was the tree my husband proposed to me under,” she said.
Off the rafters of the back porch and beneath the gaping hole in the roof, a wire sign reading “home sweet home,” swings slightly in the breeze. Amid this unruffled scene, it’s difficult to imagine that forceful storm that quickly and unexpectedly roused the Simpsons awake at around midnight.
“It was the loudest noise I’d ever heard. We smelled pine before anything else and knew the pine tree fell,” Bobby Simpson recalled. “Both Anita and my two-month-old grandson and daughter-in-law were in the hall with me. It was terrible. We were very scared, very nervous. But we kept our heads enough to get out of the house, because I was worried about the gas lines.”
Numb shock followed afterward, especially when the Simpsons found they could not repair the $4,000 in damages due to a lapsed insurance policy.
But along with the shock and stress came a multitude of people and organizations showing they cared – among them, the Fuller Center for Housing of Greater Atlanta, the Henry County Fuller Center and the Henry County Board of Commissioners, all of whom formed a partnership to help the Simpsons by assembling approximately 50 volunteers to repair the home last Saturday and Sunday, May 14-15.
“We felt like we really wanted to reach out and help our neighbors,” Elizabeth “B.J.” Mathis, Chairman of the Henry County board of commissioners, said. “We had a good show this morning from folks who just want to do something to help people in need.”
Among the volunteers included a group of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from North Carolina.
“Wherever we’re needed, however many people are needed, we come,” Ron Call, a member of the group, said. “We met over at the Atlanta speedway, about 500 of us, and they asked who had carpenter experience and I was the only one who raised my hand.”
Every volunteer had something to contribute to the project, technical skills or not.
“We’re just here to be open hands,” Leah Lyman-Walter, a member of the Praxis United Church of Christ in Atlanta, said. “My husband and I have both done rebuilding work before, so that just feels natural to us, and that’s part of the way we express the gospel – in service.”
Mark Galey, president of The Fuller Center for Housing of Greater Atlanta, said this community effort started almost immediately after the storm.
“We started by cutting trees and hauling limbs and we found out [The Simpsons] were uninsured. We prayed about it and knew we needed to help them, so we went through the process of a Greater Blessing box application,” Galey said. “It was explained to them that one, we wanted them to participate in rebuilding their own home and two, we do want them to donate back where their donation can help another family in need in their time of crisis.“
The Fuller Center in Henry County recently received a start-up grant from the Fuller Center headquarters for the project, and a $1,500 donation from Kohl’s department store.
"… This is where our faith is leading us. I urge everyone who can make a difference to step forward so we can help these families in need," Shane Persaud, president of The Henry County Fuller Center, said.
Despite the fact that The Fuller Center is not a disaster response organization, Galey said there was no question that they had to find a way to help.
“It’s about loving your neighbor – what if this was me? What if this was my house?” he said. “Call it paying it forward, call it doing the right thing, but I think if you really care you just can’t not do it.”
Continuing the work
Another workday is scheduled to take place on the Simpson’s house next Saturday, May 21. More volunteers are still needed to help with construction and clean-up efforts.
The Simpsons are not the only family in need of help in the area, however, as Galey pointed out.
“We need more support, we need more donations,” he said. “I’m sure there are more families that need help … as I look around on the same street, there’s a lot of houses that still have tarps on them, so I have to wonder, “what’s their situation, are they uninsured, why isn’t someone else working on their house, what’s their future?”
Bobby and Anita Simpson said the help they’ve received from The Fuller Center and their neighbors so far has made them want to give back what they’ve been given.
“All the people helping us has been a life-changing experience,” Bobby Simpson said. “The tornado was terrible, what it’s done to the house was terrible, but what it’s done to our lives is a great thing. It’s changed my life. The amount of people and help that poured out to us is just unbelievable. I can’t begin to repay it.”
Anita Simpson said she and her husband both intend to reach out to their neighbors who are currently facing similar challenges.
“Would we have done it before? No. Now? Yes. If anybody needs us that’s not here, just give us a call. We’d be glad to come and help,” she said. “People ought to realize that there are others that care, more than what you think.”
- Check out more photos of the volunteer effort to repair Bobby and Anita’s home
- Watch videos on The Fuller Center’s tornado recovery efforts
- Read David Snell’s blog about tornado recovery efforts in Birmingham, Alabama
- Learn more about the Henry County Fuller Center
- Learn more about the Fuller Center of Greater Atlanta
- Read an article about The Fuller Center’s initial response to tornado damage in the south