“I’ve done this [type of volunteer work] before [so] this was on my mind after the storm,” Dempsey said. “So one morning I decided I’d get up and go see if I could be a help. I got over there and met Brother [Mike] Abernathy, [pastor of Creekside Fellowship Church], and met Ken Coomer, the pastor of the [Adairsville] Church of God, and talked with them. They asked me what I could do and I said, ‘Well, about anything you need done.’ So I told them, ‘I can operate equipment, I can carpenter, I can plumb, I can [do] electrical [work], just whatever [you need].’ So I started out loading [the] debris ... and just went from there.
“... [It is very rewarding] to see some of the people get back in their houses. When I was having to knock them down, the [homes] that were beyond repair, one fellow told me, ‘You know, that’s all I have, right there.’ But I told him, I said, ‘You know, I hate to do it worse than you do because it bothers me, but you can’t live in it no more. It’s beyond repair.’ ... [Overall] we’re limited on the money. We go in there and don’t skimp on anything, but we see what we can do to get the house where it’s liveable again for the least amount of money because we can’t just spend it all on one.”
Nearly four months after the EF-3 tornado tore through Adairsville, with the height of the damage occurring around the intersection of U.S. Highway 41 and Ga. Highway 140, many impacted residents are returning to their homes, courtesy of Bartow Christian Disaster Recovery. In Bartow, the storm killed one person, damaging more than 400 residential structures and about 30 commercial properties.
Sanctioned by the local government, Bartow Christian Disaster Recovery — consisting of churches throughout Bartow County — raised funds and organized volunteers to assist in relief efforts. To date, the disaster response team has repaired or rebuilt 25 homes, demolished 22 structures and more than 5,000 volunteers have contributed over 45,000 man hours. While the majority of helpers live in Georgia, the storm efforts have drawn people throughout the country, with some traveling from Texas and Michigan.
“In the Bible it says to help your neighbor and I feel like you really do need to help your neighbor,” said Dempsey, who currently is repairing a home on Poplar Springs Road for an elderly resident. “We’ve got so many people in this country that needs help but don’t nobody want to help them. ... It makes me feel good that I am able to go in there and repair their house for them.
“... [This home] looks like a different place [now],” he said, referring to his current project, where he has repaired the walls and leaking roof as well as improved the bathroom. “There’s a lot of skilled people that come, but I’m retired. I don’t have nothing to do and I’m just glad that I’m able to do something for the people because I’ll soon be 76 years old.”
With the county’s church community pulling together after a tornado struck Bartow in 2011, the groundwork was already in place for this year’s relief efforts. After learning the Jan. 30 storm was approaching, Doug Harris, interim pastor of Cassville Baptist, representatives with the Bartow Baptist Association and Abernathy contacted Coomer about using his church as a staging area for disaster response.
“We’ve had a motto in our community for awhile. It’s called ‘Unity in the Community’ and we felt like we had unity in our community. But we think that this is a definite statement that says there’s unity in Bartow County. I think every city in Bartow County sent people to help us. I think the mayors from every city contacted us and I think many of them came. ... The city of Adairsville and the county embraced the church and the volunteers the first day, so that first day we were cleaning up,” Coomer said, adding Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor also assisted, having the landfill stay open late to collect debris. “And I think [the success of this effort] goes back to David Franklin and the Bartow Baptist [Association conducting] disaster relief in Crowe Springs [in 2011]. They knew what to do.
“The first day after the tornado, David Franklin, Doug Harris and Mike Abernathy and Ronnie Cowart [pastor of Crowe Springs Baptist] walked into my office and they knew what to do. I introduced them to the mayor. The mayor embraced them. The city embraced them and on the first Saturday ... this place was covered [with volunteers]. But, in all sincerity, on the other end of town, on the south end of Adairsville, there’s a church called NorthPointe ... [and] every church in the middle and in between, they all came together. On that Saturday, we had 167 chainsaw crews, 1,600 volunteers and not one injury,” he said, noting Team Rubicon — a disaster relief organization comprised of veterans — coordinated the initial volunteer effort.
Sharing heartwarming stories of people moving back into their residences, Coomer highlighted Joe Richard’s journey.
“[He is an] 83-year-old Korean War veteran. Joe, when the storm hit, he saw it coming, sitting there in his house,” Coomer said. “And when the storm hit, it just wiped out his house and his family said for two weeks he never closed his eyes. ... So we [started rebuilding his house]. Chamblee United Methodist brought in furniture for the family. We didn’t have all the furniture in but Joe went in and saw the furniture, and his daughter said, ‘Now in a couple of days they’ll have all the furniture in here.’ And Joe said to his daughter, ‘I’m not leaving my house again, and if I leave my house, I won’t live to come back. I’m staying here right now.’ So even though we didn’t have all the furniture, he stayed. He stayed.
“I’ll tell you how bad the house was — the county felt like we needed to condemn it, but the city of Adairsville and county worked together. We had to go back and go all the way to the beams, the foundation. ... So it’s been from the foundation up. We did that while we were doing all these other 24 [houses]. .. We started this house on the first Monday in February. We started taking debris off the house. We had to tear it down before we could rebuild. We started then and [there have] been constant volunteers in that house.”
With two more houses on the horizon, the Bartow Christian Disaster Recovery is reaching out to the church community to help raise more funds in June. Participating churches will be conducting offerings for these projects, which are set to begin next month. Excess finances will be put toward future relief efforts.
“I think what’s happened as a result of the tornado is giving the Body of Christ an opportunity to come together and do what we ought to be doing all the time,” Harris said. “This is what the church ought to be about is helping others, and this has really given us the opportunity to do that and I think the Body of Christ has really responded. They’ve done a great job and they’re continuing to do a great job.
“ ... It was organized chaos [in the beginning] but everything fell into place. People were patient. They wanted to get their assignments, and once they got their assignments, they were off and running and worked long hours every day. ... I’ve been around here a long time and I have never seen all the different denominations come together on one project the way they have on this tornado relief and stayed together and they’re still there.”
For more information about Bartow Christian Disaster Recovery’s efforts, visit www.bartowrecovery.org or call Harris at 770-861-9845 or Abernathy at 770-548-5381. To make a financial contribution, contact the Bartow Baptist Association at 770-607-0300.