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As volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) began working on two new homes in Trotwood, Ohio in May, they were helping tornado survivors unlock the door to owning a home for the first time.

When tornadoes struck the community, located just outside Dayton, on May 28, 2019, hundreds of people were left homeless in a matter of minutes. The twisters destroyed five apartment complexes, the largest with more than 400 units.

“Trotwood lost a great deal of multi-family units in the tornado—just a massive hit to affordable rental housing,” explained Laura Mercer, Executive Director of the Miami Valley Long Term Recovery Group. “There wasn’t any place for people to go.”

“We’ve had people who loved their community but had to move out of the area to find housing,” said Mercer.

That’s when MDS and other organizations in the Ohio Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD)—including the Disciples of Christ and Brethren Disaster Ministries—saw an opportunity to not only help tornado survivors recover but to help them become homeowners.

Now called the Tornado Survivors Pathway to Ownership Project, the collaborative initiative has drawn cooperation from MDS and other VOAD groups, as well as local civic organizations and government agencies, in addition to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Now people we help will be spending less than 30 percent of their incomes on housing,” said Mercer, adding that most of the people receiving new homes are employed.

“They are nursing assistants, home healthcare workers, school bus drivers—all jobs that help care for the community, so it’s a testimony to the community that they are being cared for in return.”

Mercer also said that MDS was especially appreciated for building back homes that will stand up well to future storms.

“MDS knows about resilient housing, right down to helping us identify what brackets to use,” she said.

Wayne Yoder, who is serving as the project coordinator for MDS, will  be happy to soon be welcoming volunteers onsite.

“The community leaders are excited to have the program revitalizing their neighborhoods,” he said.

MDS volunteers have been helping in one way or another since shortly after the 2019 tornadoes struck. At that time, MDS Early Response Teams assisted with cleanup.

“Ohio had 21 tornados touch down that night,” said Yoder. Even amid COVID-19, local MDS volunteers from the Dayton area were able to tackle some repair jobs with day volunteers.

“As we have done in the past year, we anticipate using only western Ohio volunteers who are able to commute to the site,” said Yoder. “We have broken the project into ‘tasks’ such as framing, roofing, windows and doors, flooring, and so on.”

At the groundbreaking for the foundation of one of the homes, Trotwood mayor Mary McDonald said this is the beginning of an exciting time.

“It just makes me feel so good as a mayor to see that pride in a community where people know that they are cared about and that they’re loved,” she said.

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