One Year after Devastating Tornadoes, A Birmingham Community Rebuilds

One Year after Devastating Tornadoes, A Birmingham Community Rebuilds

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The collard greens were cooking and Dorothy Gardner was in her home on Grasselli Avenue getting ready to head to her niece’s house for Christmas dinner last year. Then it happened. A tornado with winds of up to 135 mph slammed southwest Birmingham, destroying homes, a church, ripping roof tops and blowing out windows.

“I went to turn off the stove, and I felt myself lifting. I crawled to the wash room and sat in crouched position,” she recalled. “I said ‘Lord I want to be able to enter into your kingdom.’” When the winds died down, Gardner said she looked around outside and everything looked flat. Trees were down, but none hit her home. “My house is an old house, but it is still standing.”

Hundreds of residents have stories of their 2015 tornado survival following one of the most damaging storms in southwest Birmingham in recent history. Many of them also have stories how organizations like the nonprofit group Project Hopewell worked with city leaders, county leaders and other nonprofits to help in the recovery.

Help through Project Hopewell and the City of Birmingham

Getting help for the storm stricken southwest Birmingham presented a challenge for community and government leaders. Although the damage was severe, the value of property was lower than other communities, so the area did not meet the threshold for federal disaster declaration, said Jefferson County Commissioner Sandra Little Brown.

There was also another problem, said Ava Wise, executive director of the nonprofit Project Hopewell. “Some people did not have homeowners insurance. Some had homeowners insurance, but they had to pay high deductibles,” Wise said.

Birmingham was able to use some of its Community Development Block Grant funds to help repair and restore the impacted communities.

“The city set aside $800,000 to help people with significant damage to homes. They had to meet certain criteria, because these were federal dollars,” Wise said. Her office is in the Family Life Center of the church located on Jefferson Avenue in an area hit hard by the storm. “Some of the people we saw were just overwhelmed. Most in this area had never been through a storm like this.”

Project Hopewell launched in 2002, said Rev. E.E. Rodgers, pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church. “We started Project Hopewell because we wanted to help enhance the total quality of life in this community,” Rodgers said. “We don’t have any fences around our church, because we are part of this community. When there are needs, the community causes us to spring into action.”

Because Hopewell and the nonprofit organization are active in the community, residents in need of assistance probably felt more comfortable when asking for help.

“They had to share information with us so that we could be sure they qualified for assistance,” Wise said. “That’s not easy for a lot people to do, but because they know us, it was different.”

Finish reading the story at The Birmingham Times.