It happened Friday with a few simple scoops of dirt.
In a modest ceremony reflective of the quaint structure that once housed his three-member family on Leadmine Valley Road, Tim Garrett and his son and daughter, Tyler and Makayla, tossed a few ceremonial shovels of soil in an historic post-storm groundbreaking. It symbolized the first full home rebuild to be funded through the Cleveland/Bradley Disaster Relief Fund.
A small and respectful, almost somber handful attended — Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis, his assistant Dan Howell, board members representing the Bradley County Long-Term Recovery Organization, members of the LTRO’s Unmet Needs Committee, Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland Executive Director Matt Carlson whose organization will assist in rebuilding the Garrett home, KACE Construction representatives, Unmet Needs chairman Matt Ryerson and several others whose hands-on involvement for almost six months is leading the community into its “new normal.”
The group included LTRO’s newest faces, recovery director Jim Polier and Lisa Mantooth, case manager supervisor whose passion for helping others is already lifting the spirits of area families seeking to regain lost lives even in the face of unimagined odds.
“Today, we are so excited to celebrate the spirit of collaboration of so many in our community who made this possible,” Carlson told the group. “This is a great day in the road to recovery for not only the Garrett family, but for the many other families that the LTRO is working with.”
Mantooth, who a week earlier told the Cleveland Daily Banner, “we are changing lives,” pointed to the Garrett family’s deep appreciation to the community and to those who have played a role in helping in their rebound from tragedy.
“The Garrett family is so very appreciative for everything that has been done for them, and to everyone who has been involved in helping to make the rebuilding of their home a reality,” Mantooth said.
Mantooth has worked closely with the Garrett family over the past few months to help them through the assistance process.
The small number attending the groundbreaking was not by accident. According to Mantooth, “It is reflective of the reserved and private personality of Mr. Garrett and his family.”
This isn’t the first time Garrett has faced tragedy. His wife died in a car crash 11 years ago, leaving him to raise their two surviving children.
In a previous interview with the Banner, Garrett admitted Mantooth’s sincerity and enthusiasm are infectious.
“Lisa is on top of it,” he said. “I believe she is even more excited than we are.”
The family is especially excited about the rebuild because KACE professionals and Habitat volunteers will make quick work of the task by finishing the reconstruction in six to eight weeks. The Garretts should be moving in before Christmas, a point that Polier said means a lot to the small family.
“It makes you feel good to see the community step forward and help families like the Garretts who lost so much,” Polier said. “It gives you a good feeling to help, and a good feeling to know that this is just the first of other similar projects for families devastated by the April 27 tornadoes.”
Hundreds of Bradley County homes damaged in the unprecedented waves of late-April tornadoes have already been repaired. Others have been rebuilt or are in the middle of new construction. Many structures still cry out for attention as blue tarps stretched across scarred roofs remain a common sight, especially in some of the worst hit neighborhoods and subdivisions.
But the Garrett groundbreaking was historic because it showcased the impact of the Disaster Relief Fund whose $369,000 — to date — has been made possible by community donations and civic fundraisers. Among the many notable activities was a fundraising concert sponsored by Life Care Centers of America that brought thousands of dollars into the disaster relief coffers.
Another company stepping up is Whirlpool Corporation which has pledged to provide appliances to all tornado-affected families in Bradley County. Whirlpool support to its host communities is nothing new as evidenced by a decade-long partnership with Habitat for Humanity. In Cleveland, Whirlpool operates three distinct operations — a manufacturing facility, a call center and an engineering and technology center.
Of the amount already raised in the relief fund, some $203,375.88 has been committed to direct services for recovering families.
“That accounts for 55.1 percent of the donated funds that have been committed to these projects,” Ryerson said.
Direct services include entire home rebuilds, rehabs and renovations related to storm damage, as well as support of service organizations that are working closely with tornado survivors such as Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, Bradley Baptist Association, Men and Women of Action, the United Methodist Church and others.
The Garrett family’s is the first complete rebuild coming from the relief fund. Four others are scheduled.
“These families are so appreciative of this assistance, as are all of those whom we have talked with about their needs that are not quite as drastic, but still need to be addressed, such as for furniture and home repairs,” Mantooth said.
The LTRO offices operate at no cost from the United Way of Bradley County building in downtown Cleveland. To date, United Way has already provided support services while continuing to oversee the contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund.
“This is a very emotional thing for these families, but to see their joy when you can help them, in even the smallest of ways, makes it all worthwhile,” she stressed. “When families waiting for word from either their insurance companies, FEMA or others, finally see that there is hope through these donations to the relief fund ... well, it is very emotional for me, too.”
As the Disaster Relief Fund continues to support home repairs and complete rebuilds, it will need to be replenished for the continued support of the Bradley County community.
As is still published daily on the front page of the Cleveland Daily Banner, donations may be made by sending them to: Cleveland/Bradley Disaster Relief Fund, c/o United Way of Bradley County, P.O. Box 193, Cleveland, TN 37364.
Anyone still seeking assistance with tornado-related damages to their homes, or in need of counseling services or any other type of help, may contact Mantooth at the LTRO offices at 423-479-2020.