Lester, his wife, Misty, and their four children lost their home in Cordova during the April 27, 2011 tornadoes. The federal government could be of little help in replacing it because the house legally belonged to another relative.
The family was allowed to live in a cousin’s trailer after the storm and then received a donated mobile home of their own. However, it was several decades old and needed numerous repairs both before and after it was moved to land the Lesters owned on Garner Road.
Several volunteer groups helped Lester get the mobile home in a condition that barely passed as livable. As months passed, the responsibility of working on the trailer and seeking a permanent housing solution for his family fell squarely on Lester’s shoulders.
When LTRC agreed to begin facilitating rebuilds for storm survivors, the Lesters’ case was one of the first discussed.
“When you do case management, it has to be a family that has done everything they can to help themselves, and this family had. There just were no more resources,” Smith said.
Lester admits to being skeptical when Smith first approached him. He was tired of staking his family’s future on someone else’s plans that kept falling through.
Smith assured him that she would make no promises of a rebuild until all the necessary funding and labor were in place.
Lester was working on a porch for the mobile home when his wife told him that the call they had been waiting for from Smith had just occurred.
“I dropped the hammer and said, ‘Alright. I’m not doing anything else. We’ll see.’ I never put another nail in it,” Lester said.
The Lesters’ new home was built by volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Service through a partnership with Garden Spot Village, a Pennsylvania retirement community. The walls were constructed by residents of Garden Spot and then shipped to Cordova to be installed by the MDS team assigned to the project.
Each stud contains the signatures and well-wishes of the men and women of Garden Spot as well as verses from the Bible.
Construction began on Sept. 24 and was completed one month later.
A dedication ceremony was held at the Lester home on Friday, one day shy of the 18-month anniversary of the tornado outbreak.
The family was presented with quilts made for each family member by residents of Garden Spot, a Bible and a copy of the MDS history “The Hammer Rings Hope.”
Most importantly, James Lester signed off on the job card for the new home that for many months seemed so close yet still just out of reach.
On behalf of himself and his family, Lester thanked everyone who helped with the rebuild.
“This is a dream come true for us. A year ago, I would have never imagined that it could have come this far and become this big,” Lester said.
Smith said after the ceremony that few storm survivors have worked harder on recovery than Lester, a Jasper police officer who not only did everything in his power to take care of his own family but also volunteered his time to help with other rebuilds for LTRC.
“I cannot think of a more deserving family or a more deserving husband and father. He works so hard for his family and our whole community,” Smith said.