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Graves Co. nonprofit aiming to house tornado victims welcomes first family to Water Valley site

Camp Graves, a new nonprofit in Water Valley, is a part of local businessman's effort to fill the temporary housing gap after the December tornado outbreak.
Lily Burris
Camp Graves, a new nonprofit in Water Valley, is a part of local businessman's effort to fill the temporary housing gap after the December tornado outbreak.

A new Graves County nonprofit focused on housing victims of the December outbreak welcomed its first family over the weekend.

Camp Graves main location is in Water Valley, a Graves County community about 20 minutes away from Mayfield. The idea for the group came together in the aftermath of the disaster, when local business owner and organizer Micah Seavers was working to feed and shelter survivors.

“You start seeing these families crammed into homes, multiple families, and they were making it work, but you notice that there's a huge vacuum right now because all the rental houses is what got destroyed,” Seavers said.

Now, survivors are being housed on Seavers’ property – where volunteers have helped to build and set-up a variety of housing options with sponsorship, support and assistance from a variety of groups. United Way even presented the organization with a $250,000 check in early August.

The current plan is to house around 30 families on the site – 14 in tiny homes, 16 in camper sites and six in container homes.

In addition to financial support, volunteers have also come to the campsite to help with the construction efforts. The main Camp Graves office has signed boards around the room from the groups that have come to assist. On the weekend of the ribbon cutting, Hope Church from Simpsonville, South Carolina had volunteers on the ground helping finish up some tiny homes.

The South Carolina Church sent seven volunteers. One of those was chemical engineer Tom Steiner.

“I've never been through a disaster like this — to lose everything, and maybe even some loved ones, and, just kind of what this place represents as a place to kind of just help people get back on their feet,” Steiner said. “It may not be their forever home, but for every how many months, they can come here and stay till they really get their situation figured out. It's just exciting to be able to help contribute to that.”

The organization had their ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday. The first family to move onto the non-profit’s site will start in a camper and later move into a tiny home once all the electricity has been completed for the campsite. The area doesn’t yet have a system capable of supporting the electrical needs of Camp Graves, Seaver said, but upgrades are on the way.

Camp Graves isn’t just a campsite. While there are a few campers set up at the location, there’s also a few tiny homes already built and some container homes set up on the property.

Seavers said the container homes already on the property were sponsored for a few months when they arrived at the campsite. The plan is for those to be used for the displaced elderly, for now, and possibly set up to be a part of a program for foster youth after disaster recovery gets farther along.

Programs and plans beyond disaster recovery are a part of the Camp Graves team’s long-term goals. Seavers said that, since the nonprofit is on private property, it allows the group to set requirements for those in the group.

“We are stressing education, we're stressing job training, budget learning, things of that nature, things where people can, can grow and do better beyond,” Seavers said. “We have a mortgage readiness program, budget program, that you have to take to be here. You also have to take drug testing, once a quarter at random. You have to do a background check, we will not allow anybody with sexual offenses, things like that.”

Other plans include letting in families who have lost their homes due to other disasters like fires.

“We didn't want to look short term,” Seavers said. “We wanted to look [at] what can we do now. And what can we continue to do later on.”

Some families in the area have already been helped by Seavers and those who work on Camp Graves. The group has repaired some empty but damaged homes in the area in exchange for allowing displaced families to live there.

There are also plans for the groups to set up a home for the Latino community in the area to help them in partnership with St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and a veteran’s program to help those who have lost everything.

“I want to see Graves County and the local area just support these people and realize that everybody can do better, sometimes they just need a little help,” Seavers said.

Lily Burris is a tornado recovery reporter for WKMS, Murray State's NPR Station. Her nine month reporting project is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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