It’s been a long road for Pam and Steve Fondren who have been without their home since the 2011 tornado, but now they are blessed more than ever imagined.
After more than two years, it was finally complete. The Fondrens were officially home.
When a massive tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa in April 2011 and left many residents homeless, Pam and Steve Fondren were among those affected. Their doublewide trailer that had been their home for 26 years was completely destroyed.
Samaritan’s Purse responded to the tornado by initially sending disaster relief volunteers, but after the clean up was complete, the program transitioned into a rebuild project. In the past two years, Samaritan’s Purse has completely rebuilt 18 homes and repaired 13 with the help of 1,100 volunteers representing each state and four from foreign countries.
The Fondren’s home was the last to be built and dedicated as a result of the tornado. And on July 9, they finally had the keys in their hands.
“It’s been a long road,” said 44-year-old Pam Fondren. “God has taken us so far. Everybody has affected our lives. I thank the Lord for that.”
The beautiful three-bedroom home with hardwood floors is complete with a safe room that doubles as the bathroom and laundry room. The door is made of nearly 250 pounds of steel and the entire room can withstand between 150 and 200 mile per hour winds.
Samaritan’s Purse started including these safe rooms, which are based on the FEMA design, after tornadoes destroyed much of Bertie County, N.C., in 2011.
Samaritan’s Purse Project Manager Dan Burton said our teams include these safe rooms for homeowners to offer them more peace of mind, especially because they’ve already been through so much with the original storm that tore apart their homes.
“A lot of people are really nervous around here,” he said. “You get thunderstorms, and they get nervous. With the safe room, they feel blessed.”
Written on the Walls
While the safe room is one of the features the Fondrens are extremely grateful for in their new home, their favorite is something a little deeper within the walls.
Volunteers who worked on the home had written Bible verses on the wallboard underneath the plaster and paint, blessing the home in the name of the Lord.
“God blessed this house with scriptures all through this home,” Pam said. “That Sheetrock isn’t coming down unless God takes it down himself. He’s been that rock for us.”
Pam and her husband Steve had been living with one of their daughters next door to their lot for the past two years. Without Samaritan’s Purse help, they didn’t know what they would have done. Before the tornado, Steve had open-heart surgery in 2009, and Pam was struggling with her own medical issues as well. But even despite their health issues and struggles, they’ve always been very involved in their community and willing to help anyone in need.
“We know that this place will be a ministry from now on,” Dan said as he dedicated the house in front a Samaritan’s Purse staff, family, and First Baptist Church members. “We’re blessed to be able to help them help other people.”
Members of our host church, First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, attended the dedication as well to help welcome the Fondrens into their new home, which was partially furnished by members in their congregation.
“I’m here because I want to see happy faces and see people who have been doing an unbelievable favor through Samaritan’s Purse,” said 86-year-old Paul O’Mary, a member of First Baptist who volunteered some of his time painting houses. “It just shows you that people care for people when the chips are down. Good people will always go where they are needed.”
He came with his friend and fellow volunteer, 74-year-old George Hodgson. George said Paul wasn’t feeling well that morning, but he said he wouldn’t miss the dedication for anything. Both men had been blessed through Samaritan’s Purse presence in their community, and George even received our help himself when a disaster relief crew removed 14 downed trees in his yard after the tornado first hit.
“[Samaritan’s Purse] is really family to us,” George said. “It’s going to be a sad day when they finally leave.”
When the family turned the key to their house and celebrated over punch and cake, there were many smiles and even some happy tears.
“It’s very hard for me, because of my pride, to say I’m the most undeserving person who has walked the earth and God gave this to us and I thank Him everyday,” Pam said. “I hope if nothing else, [from this experience] we will know all our prayers are always answered, but in His time and in His way. We don’t know the outcome, but we’ll be taken care of.”
Taking Care of Other Hurricane Victims
Two other families, the Gamellis and the Hortons, also received new homes on July 9 in Gordo, Ala. During the rebuild project in Tuscaloosa, Hurricane Isaac hit nearby, flooding the town of Gordo. Samaritan’s Purse agreed to rebuild a few homes in the area. The town was so grateful, Mayor Craig Patterson attended both dedications, which were located on the same street a couple houses apart. There he presented a proclamation declaring July 9 “Samaritan’s Purse Day.”
“This is great. I never thought this would be the end result,” he said regarding the quality of the brand new homes that replaced the flooded remnants that stood there before. “I’m here to support our community and Samaritan’s Purse. What they’ve done in our community has been amazing, and they’ve been great to work with from the start.”
Rhonda Horton and her 95-year-old mother, Mamie, were surrounded by more than 40 of their closest friends and family during their home dedication. Many of her family also attended the home dedication of their neighbor, Joan Gamelli. Both families had members volunteer their time to building each other’s houses.
Joan Gamelli was in tears as her son-in-law wheeled her into her new home, which was specially built with handicap accessible features for her.
“This is such a blessing. It is so surreal,” she said. “There’s no words. There’s no human words.”
The rebuild project officially ended with these dedications and the office is packing up and moving onto the next construction projects. For a list of current building projects or other volunteer opportunities with Samaritan’s Purse, visit our volunteer network.