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Chiefs find hope, progress in return trip to Joplin

Posted Jun 16, 2012

Progress of Joplin community impressive to those who first visited last summer

Visit http://joplinchallenge.mo.gov/ to help.

Scott Pioli dragged away with larger chunks of debris with ease. Broken walls, snapped roofs, and twice-bent street signs flung belonged on the street corner for permanent removal—the main goal of the Chiefs’ first volunteer trip to Joplin, Mo.

The smaller pieces were tougher for the general manager to abandon, though. As he sifted through family heirlooms and photographs scattered by last year’s deadly F5 tornado, Pioli came to grips with the gravity of what had taken place there.

“Last year, it was tragedy right in front of you,” said Pioli about his memories from last June’s visit. “Even though there was a hope at that point in time, it was a hope resting on nothing concrete. Last year, they had everything ripped out from under them.”

Instead of hailing broken homes away, Pioli and the Chiefs were able to piece together new ones when revisited Joplin on Friday. Two dozen Chiefs players and more than 100 staff members—including Pioli, owner Clark Hunt, and team president Mark Donovan—volunteered to help Habitat for Humanity build five new homes for displaced residents and new homeowners.

Donovan said the Chiefs were profoundly impacted by the mindset of Joplin citizens—even when they had lost their homes and families. In the face of it all, residents still believed that their town would rebound, and that optimism stuck with Donovan and others “throughout the season.”

In just over a year after the tornado, citizens have more reason for positivity. Although Joplin is far from restored, the debris has cleared enough for construction to begin and for residents to return.

Hunt, who visited Joplin six months ago, said he barely recognizes the city now.

“It is tremendous what has happened,” said Hunt, who helped build one of the five new homes. “It’s a testament to the citizens of this community and so many people who have volunteered their time and efforts to help rebuild. It’s really come a long way fast, but clearly, there is still work to be done.”

Dustin Colquitt, Rodney Hudson, Brady Quinn, and Luke Patterson joined rookies Dontari Poe, Jeff Allen, Donald Stephenson and others helped to complete some of that work on Friday. Together with Habitat for Humanity volunteers and Joplin contractors, they framed new houses on a group of four blocks that were completely leveled last year.

Quinn heard about the Chiefs’ first trip to Joplin as a member of the Denver Broncos last year and said he wished he could be there. Now, as a member of the Chiefs, Quinn said he didn’t hesitate to sign on with quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, rookie quarterback Alex Tanney, and the rest of his teammates.

“I remember when I heard about Joplin last year, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do based on the schedule that we had,” said Quinn. “I had an opportunity to come here this year and that was something I wanted to do. I wanted a chance to give back and help these people in need.”

Like Quinn, the vast majority of the attending players weren’t Chiefs last year, but had heard about the disaster and wanted to help when the organization planned this return trip. 

“We didn’t make this mandatory,” Pioli said. “We just told them in a team meeting that this is what we’re doing, gave a little background, told them about the disaster and what the team did last year. And we said whoever wants in can be in. That was really it.”

Linda Hazley, a recipient of one of the five new homes, certainly appreciated the Chiefs second round in Joplin. Hazely’s apartment complex was uprooted as the tornado passed, and as she hid for cover in her bathroom, she said she prayed for her safety and the safety of her family.

Hazely’s family emerged from the disaster unscathed, and as she toured the new living room of her half-built home, Hazely realized her prayers were more than answered.

“It’s hard to explain,” said Hazley, who had her floor plans signed by the volunteering Chiefs players. “I can’t put it into words. I’m just so happy to have a house again.”

For the foreseeable future, the Chiefs plan to keep helping Joplin citizens like Hazley return to normalcy.

“We’ll be here next year; we’ll be here for a long time as a community,” said Pioli. “We’ve talked about this before, there is a Chiefs Kingdom. Any place out here that is affected by anything like this, we’re going to be out here to help just like the fans are there to help us.”

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