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Mayfield organization begins demolishing, rebuilding ruined homes

Liam Niemeyer
A home being demolished by MDS in Mayfield.

Jimmy Galbreath always wanted to live near a church. He worked hard to buy a home several years ago near Smith Temple Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Mayfield, and he loved it.

But with a blue tarp over the roof, siding torn and debris covering his yard, he can’t live there anymore.

“I don’t have much, but I’ve worked hard for everything I got,” Galbreath said. “That's the reason why it's so kind of hard to turn it loose.”

The 62-year-old has been living in a local motel, and he’s been struggling to process his situation. He doesn’t want to stay in a motel for months on end. It’s a situation many in Mayfield face after a catastrophic category EF4 tornado tore through the heart of the town, destroying or damaging hundreds of houses.

But with the help of fellow community members, he and dozens of others may be able to rebuild without a financial burden.

Galbreath’s home is among those the Homes and Hope for Kentucky organization – created in the wake of the storm – is working to potentially demolish and rebuild. The community organization, backed by stakeholders including Mayfield Independent Schools, the city council, local banks and the Mayfield Rotary Club, aims to rebuild homes for about 100 Mayfield residents who lost everything.

Organization co-chair Heather Nesler said the organization is entirely volunteer-run, with donations for the group collected through Mayfield Rotary Foundation. The nonprofit organization recently neared $300,000 in total support from individual donations and from the Mayfield Community Foundation. A Cincinnati bank is also adding $20,000 to the fund for each home rebuilt.

But much more funding will be needed for building materials in the months ahead, she said, with the organization being one of the first efforts in Mayfield to focus on the long-term rebuilding of the town.

Liam Niemeyer
Jimmy Galbreath in the backyard of his Mayfield home.

“For now, we're the only ones that we are aware of that are actively engaged in casework already,” Nesler said. “Our hope is that as this process develops that there are more agencies that fit under that umbrella of a long term recovery committee and we're a piece of that.”

Nesler said the organization has identified about 100 underinsured or uninsured homeowners in Graves County and Mayfield – a priority for the organization to help – who had some amount of damage to their property, ranging from total destruction to minor repairs.

But the rebuilding process will be a long and expensive one. Mennoite Disaster Service, a religiously-affiliated volunteer network, is providing the demolition, rebuilding and repair labor to the organization for free.

“We hope in the next two weeks or three weeks that some repairs will begin as well as identifying where new homes will be constructed,” MDS executive director Kevin King said. “People have to start to see something positive going up.”

King estimates the total costs of the demolition and rebuilding for destroyed homes and repairs for salvageable properties in Mayfield could reach into the millions of dollars, but he’s confident that fundraising will reach that point.

Joe Orr, a veteran and member of the Homes and Hope for Kentucky committee, understands the emotional connection people have with their homes.

He stood in front of what used to be a two-story, four-bedroom red brick home as heavy construction equipment slowly wiped the property clean Wednesday, a little less than a month after the tornado struck. Orr said it was the third home demolished by the organization so far.

Many homes have family history going back a generation, he said, and he wants to make sure those impacted, like Jimmy Galbreath, stay in the community.

“We’re here for the long haul,” Orr said. “Our goal is to start building a home for a family no later than the first of March.”

With the upcoming long haul, Orr believes the need for caseworkers to handle home rebuilding and repair applications will also rise to meet the growing demand in the months ahead.

Applications for home rebuilding or repair and a donation portal to the organization can be found on the organization’s website.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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