JOPLIN, Mo. — Among an abundance of loss, around 7,500 residential structures were damaged in the pathway of the Joplin tornado on May 22, 2011. But seven families who lost their homes got a chance at a new start when ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” came to town that October.
In only seven days, seven 1,300 to 2,000 square feet houses were built. Nearly 14,000 volunteers built the homes and provided other services during construction. The houses, located in the 2300 and 2400 blocks of South Connor Avenue in Joplin, were built to suit the needs of each family.
But where are these families now? Do they still own their “Extreme Makeover” homes?
Recipients Tom and Emily Walters originally owned the “beach house” on South Connor Ave. Tom says receiving the home was “such a blessing.”
Before moving into their “Extreme Makeover” home, the Walters family had to move three times after losing their home to the tornado. The family lived with Emily’s mom for a month, in a rental house for the next month until the owner sold the property, and then in a friend’s house that was in the midst of a remodel.
“When we got the call from Extreme Home Makeover, I thought it was a joke. I couldn’t believe that someone would think of nominating our family, but I was so thankful they did,” said Tom Walters.
Two years after moving in, the Walters welcomed twins into the world and sold their “Extreme Makeover” home because they were in need of more space. Still living locally, the Walters try to give back in any way they can.
“My family and I try to continually give back to the community as much as possible to repay for the gift we were given… I can’t say thank you enough for all the people that helped build a house for my family and give us a new start,” he said.
Emily provides for the community as a nurse at Freeman Health System. Tom is an ISS teacher at North Middle School and is graduating with his master’s degree this month. This summer, he is set to run a girls only skateboarding camp.
Recipient Crystal Cogdill, who owned the “modern home,” has since sold her “Extreme Makeover” house as well. She says that selling the home provided her with a sense of closure after losing one of her sons in the tornado.
“Dealing with the loss of my son and surviving the tornado, you go through a process of grief. The home was a place of healing and a foundation to get back to a new normal. At some point, I felt that I was no longer healing, I almost felt stuck in that moment,” said Cogdill.
“I had another son and I knew that we would outgrow the home at some point as well. Selling the home was like giving me closure on that part of my life,” she continued.
Cogdill says that selling the home had nothing to do with the house itself.
“It was a beautiful home and a huge blessing to me and my son David,” she said.
She also mentions that “Extreme Makeover” did a great job of making the home affordable.
Feng Shui House
One of the last two “Extreme Makeover” homes still owned by the original recipients is the “Feng Shui” house owned by Thang and Tiffany Nguyen.
Thang Nguyen, a pilot in the Vietnam War, immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. He settled in Joplin and worked at General Mills until retirement.
“I love Joplin. I love the small city, quiet town,” said Thang Nguyen.
Before the tornado, the Nguyens lived on Pennsylvania Avenue in Joplin. After disaster struck, their former neighborhood was unrecognizable.
Thang, a master of Feng Shui, is in tune with the energy around him and his “Extreme Makeover” home reflects that. With a straight line from the front door to the back door, the flow is just right. Thang even helped decide where the appliances were positioned.
“I get lucky from “Extreme Makeover” to choose me to give me this house. I love [the house] too much,” he said.
According to Nguyen and neighbors, the other “Extreme Makeover” home still owned by the original recipient is the “Princess House” owned by the Whitely family. The last three homes, originally owned by Scott and Natalie Ely, Kyle and Jill Howard, and Justin and Kari Nevins, are now under new ownership.