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Fuller Center, EAMC dedicates new homes

BEAUREGARD — Thursday was a day of hope and joy in Beauregard, two months after an EF4 tornado killed 23 people and injured dozens of others. Smiles replaced the tears as three new houses were dedicated for Beauregard residents who lost their homes during the March 3 tornado outbreak.

In a cooperative effort on behalf of the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project and the East Alabama Medical Center, the homes were built in just eight days. Each new homeowner has a family connection to EAMC.

On Thursday morning, CFCP Homes No. 43, 44 and 45 were turned over to their new owners before large crowds of well-wishers, CFCP and EAMC officials.

“I am excited! I am so happy!” exclaimed Betty Harris as the entourage reached her new home on Lee Road 166. She was hugged by EAMC President Laura Grill and Susan Johnston, administrative vice president.

CFCP No. 43, which has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, is her new home. She, husband Willie and teenage daughters Kayla and Katelyn will be living there. On the afternoon of Sunday, March 3, there were nine people inside a manufactured home that was on that same site when the powerful tornado ripped off the roof and crushed in one side of the home. Betty was frying chicken for that big crowd of folks when their world was turned upside down.

Miraculously, no one was hurt, but the Harris family was left homeless. Temporary arrangements were made for them until they could get a permanent place to live. Arrangements were made for them to live in furnished apartments in the greater Opelika/Auburn area. They have two older daughters who work for EAMC.

“This is our retirement home,” Mr. Harris said at the dedication. “We have been in three bad storms over the years, but that one in March really got us. We are so grateful for the help we’ve gotten from everyone to get us to where we are today.”

“A little more than two months ago their home was destroyed by a tornado,” said CFCP Executive Director Kim Roberts at the dedicatory ceremony. “Today they are sitting on the front porch of their new home.”

Roberts thanked house captain Sam Leslie for what he and his crew did this past week.

Leslie is a project manager for Dilworth Development Corp. in Auburn. They finished the house last Thursday. It took them only four days from start to finish to have it ready to move in. “We are a faith-based company,” Leslie said. “Just having the opportunity to do something like this is uplifting and gratifying.”

“It’s a privilege and an honor to be a part of this today,” Roberts said. “It is so good to see these wonderful smiles on these faces. Laura Eason, the EAMC chaplain, has been so helpful in this process. We thank Cornerstone for believing in us.”

Cornerstone is EAMC’s employee assistance foundation and has played a crucial role in helping storm victims through a crisis.

“Pastor Rusty Sowell of Providence Baptist Church has been amazing in this,” Roberts added. “Thank you for all you have done for this community.”

CFCP Homes No. 44 and 45 are located within easy walking distance of each other. One house can be easily seen from the other, but it wasn’t like that just before the tornado ripped a mile-wide path through the area. There were some dense woods between the homes of Napoleon Dardy and Wayne and Maggie Robinson. Pine trees some two to two-and-a-half feet in diameter were broken in two like matchsticks by those powerful winds.

Wayne Robinson was in an outside building when his sister Maggie came out to tell him that a bad storm was on the way and that he’d better come inside their house. He told her he’d just stay where he was and for her to go back inside. Tragically, the house collapsed on Maggie, killing her and Wayne survived. Though their dog pens were blown away, prized pets Rock and Smokey survived, too.

Maggie was a revered nurse at EAMC. Her co-workers still find it hard to talk about her without getting emotional.

Wayne was somewhat in awe of the attention he was getting.

“I feel great today,” he said. “I never realized I had so many friends. It was really hard to get to where I am today, but I made it and I’m grateful.”

His new home is very much like the one the Harris family is living in but with an added bonus. Wayne is an Alabama fan, and he has something really nice to put on his coffee table – an encased Alabama football signed by Nick Saban along with an autographed picture.

“We were proud to partner with the Fuller Center in this project,” said EAMC President Laura Grill. “We thank everyone for a wonderful week of helping this community back. We thank everyone who had a hand in this for your time, your gifts and your talents. I think Maggie would be proud of this new home.”

Cornerstone manager Lisa Ruffin said that helping employees was part of EAMC’s DNA, and they are pleased for families with connections to the hospital to have new homes. Ruffin said she was also pleased with the job done by the CFCP.

“We thought they could pull it off in a week, and they did,” she said. “We will be seeing them again in July, when two more new homes will be built, and in October, when we will have a Fuller Center Legacy Build and ten more new homes going up.”

“This is not about homes but about families,” Roberts said.

She thanked the house captains for No. 45, Randy Smith and Tiffany Tyson, for their  work.

“Tiffany called me and asked if we could build a house in six days,” Roberts said. “We did, but we couldn’t have done it without our subcontractors and volunteers. It was a lot of hard work in a short period of time, but we got it done.”

At the end of the program, Roberts opened the front door and asked Wayne to be the first to step inside his new home. Beaming from ear to ear, he gladly obliged.

A short distance away from Wayne Robinson’s new home is CFCP No. 44. It’s the new home of Napoleon Dardy, who lost his manufactured home in the storm. EAMC-Lanier Administrator Greg Nichols and other hospital employees volunteered their time in building it.

“Three new houses in one week is quite a journey,” said Lisa Ruffin. “I’m exceptionally thankful to be part of any organization that helps people in the way this does. I want to thank all our volunteers for their superb participation.”

Roberts said she’d never forget that phone call she received from Nichols in March telling her that EAMC wanted three new houses built in two months. She offered a rather hesitant okay at that time, but it all came together. She recognized Mary Beth Wolfe, who with her husband served as the house captain for No. 44, and said that she deserved a pink hard hat for all the hard work she’d put in in the last week.

“Eric West of Auburn Framing really helped us on this house,” she said. “Pastor Joe Davis and members of the Auburn First United Methodist Church have done a wonderful job of taking Napoleon under their wing and helping him through this.”

Dardy expressed his gratitude to the crowd.

“I can’t thank you enough for what everyone has done,” he said. “It makes you realize that there’s more love in this world than you’d see by watching the news on TV.”

“It’s been an honor for me to have been part of this,” Roberts told Dardy. “I hope this new home brings you lots of joy and happiness in the coming years.”

Roberts told the group that this is her 10th year with the CFCP.

“What a way to celebrate,” she said. “We finished this house during the midnight hour last night. There’s still a few minor things left, but I think it’s going to be a good home.”

David Snell of the Fuller Center for Housing made the trip over from Americus, Georgia to take part in the home dedications.

He will be back in September, when the Fuller Center will be having a Legacy Build in Beauregard.

Ten new homes will be going up that week. Registration is now under way at fullercenter.org.

The Church of the Highlands in Auburn will be working with the CFCP to build two new homes in July.