November 30, 2011 - Clarkston area volunteers returned from Joplin, Missouri, Nov. 5, after a week helping rebuild after a devastating tornado.
The NODRT team helped tornado victims rebuild their house. Photo provided (click for larger version)
"They were very outgoing, very thankful we were there," said Ben Pusheck of Waterford, trip leader and member of the board. "They've been working to rebuild since June."
Founded in 2001, The North Oakland Disaster Relief Team, NODRT, organizes 1-3 trips a year, from long weekends to a week in length.
The group traveled to the Gulf Coast for the past five years to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. This is their first to Joplin.
"We were looking to see who else needs help – Joplin came up in a number of conversations so we looked into it," Pusheck said.
Mennonite Disaster Service provided a place to sleep and meals. The Michigan group worked with other volunteers and residents to rebuild roofs and siding, electrical work, cabinet and other interior work, and other projects.
After the May 22 tornado, 600-1,000 volunteers, residents, and construction workers were on hand. Now, there's about 50-75.
"They're making good progress. All kinds of organizations are helping." Pusheck said.
The tornado, rated EF-5 with winds above 200 mph, killed more than 160 people, and destroyed more than 7,500 homes and 500 businesses in a 1-by-7-mile zone.
"In many case it just left the slab or foundation – neighborhoods look like fields, foundation after foundation," Pusheck said. "People had to start over."
Pusheck has been a member of NODRT for nine years, making his first long trip after Katrina.
"For two years, I wanted to make the trip," he said. "After Katrina, I made it fit into my schedule."
He is an engineer and project manager for General Motors. Already a volunteer with church and Habitat for Humanity, he was looking for more to do.
"It sounded interesting and I'd be able to work on different things," he said. "It's very rewarding to help somebody, and it's also a level-setting trip. You realize how good you have it."
The group includes several retirees, 65-75 years old. All are welcome to join, as long as they're willing to work.
"You will meet wonderful people, make new friends, stay in unique places, eat great food," said Vince Alonzi, 73. "Best of all your legs will be sore, your feel will hurt, your back will ache, and your shoulders will be sore and you know what? You won't care because your heart will be fill with the joy of Christ."
Jobs range from construction work to counseling, listening to disaster victims tell their stories.
"We're looking for people interested in helping people," Pusheck said. "There's always something to do."
NODRT is a non-profit coalition of churches, businesses, organizations, and individuals in Oakland County. Volunteers must be 18 or older.
For more information on volunteering or to donate, contact Stan Garwood at 248-625-3123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.