Compassion brings new Okla. start


CENTRAL OKLAHOMA (Jan. 1, 2000) -- Emerging from painful memories of a

tornado that seemed to target her family, Samantha Darnell sees new

beginnings this New Year.

She already moved into her new home. And her baby is due sometime in May --

one year after a tornado killed her 3-week old son, broke her husband's

back in three places, and destroyed her home.

Darnell's new start has come with the help of compassionate neighbors, a

corporation with a heart, and her own volunteerism.

Marking a new foray into disaster recovery, the Case Foundation -- run by

Jean Case, wife of America OnLine (AOL) founder Steve Case -- issued a $1

million matching grant to Habitat for Humanity in Oklahoma to rebuild homes

after the tornadoes.

Darnell's was among some 80 homes that will be rebuilt this year to give

families a new start.

This is one of the first times the two-year-old Case Foundation, which

normally focuses on youth, has gotten involved with disaster response, said

Pam McGraw, spokesperson.

Steve and Jean Case chose to direct funds toward the state recovery because

a major AOL call center is stationed in Oklahoma City, and employees had

been affected by the disaster, said McGraw. "They also felt it was the

second time Oklahoma City, in a short period of time, faced a disaster,"

said McGraw.

Since then, the Case Foundation has also contributed to disaster relief for

earthquake survivors in Turkey and refugees in Kosovo.

In Oklahoma, volunteers are coordinated through Habitat for Humanity to

rebuild homes while the future homeowners contribute what's called "sweat


For Darnell, whose husband is still recovering from his injuries and can't

do strenuous work, "sweat equity" means volunteering to answer the phones

at the Habitat for Humanity office.

For volunteers helping to build the homes, it means a rewarding, hands-on

way to help a neighbor in need.

Many volunteer teams come from local churches searching for ways to

contribute to the ongoing recovery. Congregations from the Christian Church

(Disciples of Christ) have been active in building Habitat homes.

"We had previously built three or four Habitat houses," said Coy Parsley,

senior associate regional minister for the Christian Church in Oklahoma.

Since the Christian Church is also active in disaster response, the effort

seemed like a natural outlet. Nationally, the Christian Church contributes

to disaster recovery around the world by coordinating Week of Compassion, a

giving program.

The combined efforts -- churches, Habitat staff, corporate funds -- make

the homebuilding "kind of like an old-fashioned barn-raising," said Anne

Felton, chairman of the board for the Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity.

Volunteer Don Hunteman, a retired postal worker who is a member of the

Southern Hills Christian Church, said volunteering is exciting. "And it's

really exciting when the homeowners work side-by-side with you. They just

become elated as the house goes up and they work even harder," he said.

Another bonus for volunteers is that they learn construction skills through

hands-on practice. "I've always been a tinkerer and a carpenter all my life

as a hobby," said another volunteer, Larry Dodd. "I see this as a way to

learn how do it right."

But the real highlight is meeting the people who will live in the house and

getting to know them, he added. "The mission of the church is to go out and

preach the gospel and present it to everybody," he said. "But it's hard to

preach to someone whose stomach is grumbling and who's getting wet in the


Volunteer Amzi Gregory added that building homes for tornado survivors is

part of his prevailing feeling of helping others. "You really begin to feel

you can make a difference," he said. "I went to Honduras with the Rotary

Club, and now I'm helping to build homes. It's all part of the spectrum."

Killer tornadoes crossed 100 miles of Oklahoma on May 3. One mile-wide

tornado alone cut a 20-mile swath through Oklahoma City and surrounding

towns. The fierce storms with winds surpassing 200 miles-per-hour destroyed

some 10,000 homes and businesses, causing nearly $1 billion in damages.

Twisters claimed 44 lives, injured more than 600, and left thousands

homeless for weeks. President Clinton declared 11 counties federal disaster


The small towns of Bridge Creek -- where 11 people died -- and Mulhall were

virtually leveled.

After being inundated with clothing donations, the state's emergency

management leaders and non-government organizations coordinated recovery

management that began to restore order to people's lives.

Then, less than a month after the May tornadoes, more tornadoes claimed two

lives on June 1 -- one in Oklahoma and one in Illinois. Another series of

storms hit Perry, Okla. on Dec. 2, producing high winds, hail and unusual

December tornadoes. This latest storm damaged homes and toppled power

lines, but no serious injuries or deaths were reported.

In the wake of this trauma, thousands of volunteers have given of themselves to help survivors make a new start. Faith-based groups are involved not

only in building homes but in case management, counseling adopt-a-family

programs, children's camps, and donations management as well.

Those managing donations have commented that, with warehouses full of water

and nonperishable food, their area did not have to worry about Y2K-related

food or water shortages.

Posted Jan. 1, 2000

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