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Thursday, March 22, 2012

What a Crew

I want to give a big shout out to the crew that spent the week with me in West Liberty.  What an awesome group!  I appreciate everyone taking a week off of their own lives to help the people of this Eastern Kentucky community. 

When Blake and I first started talking about ways we could help Morgan County, we talked about his company, Luxury Lawn & Landscape, donating trees to be planted throughout the community.  That initial discussion turned into us loading up five pieces of heavy machinery and recruiting a few other to join us in camping out for 4 days. 

It's been a great experience and although we're all exhausted and ready for a warm shower, we have all agreed that our work in West Liberty is not finished.  We'll be back. 

So, THANK YOU to Jeff, Randy, Blake, Bill, Mauricio and Tony for volunteering your time to help with the recovery efforts in West Liberty, Kentucky!

And, thank YOU to everyone who has followed this blog and shared in our experience.  I hope the pictures we've posted and the stories we've shared from this community have inspired you to do your part.  Until next time...

Semper Fi!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Still Work To Be Done

Our time in West Liberty is coming to a close, but that doesn't mean that the work is done.  As the pictures show, this community is facing a complete devastation.  Before they can even begin rebuilding, the broken down homes, the debris hanging in the tree tops, and the blocked roadways must be cleared. 

Our crew spent three and half days in West Liberty, working from sunlight to sundown.  It feels like we've accomplished a lot, but there are still too many families homeless and too many businesses closed indefinitely.  But life doesn't stop for the residents of Morgan County.  In previous posts, I've shared the resilience and the strong sense of hope that these people, who have lost nearly everything, have shown me during my time in their community. 

These are proud, strong and devoted Americans.  They represent everything this great country stands for: faith, hard work, a second chance, determination. 

I've said before that one of the reasons America is the best country in the world is because we come together and lend a shoulder to a neighbor in need.  Many people have volunteered their time and given all their energy to help West Liberty get back on its feet, but we cannot stop here.  There is still work to be done in this community and they are going to need all of our help.  I urge anyone and everyone to do what they can to help a fellow American in need. 

I believe we can all look at circumstances life presents as situations or as opportunities; I choose to consider West Liberty an opportunity for all of us to rise above ourselves and come together for the greater good. 

I'll be back to West Liberty, to continue helping what is sure to be a long and sometimes painful recovery.  I hope you'll join me.


Count Your Blessings

I've met many wonderful people during my time working in West Liberty.  Each person has a story to tell; some of them are stories of survival and sadly, many are stories of lost loved ones.  Talking with these people has really given me a better perspective on my own life and has made me realize how important it is for each of us to count our blessings.

While working in a small community about 10 miles from West Liberty, called Woodsbend, I met a couple who recently celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary.  John and Sherry Flannery had been living on a small piece of property in Woodsbend for the last 35 years.  Sherry's 90 year-old mother was living with the Flannerys during the time the tornado hit. 

John recalled seeing the storm make its way over the mountaintops and straight toward his house, "it looked like a huge wave you see in the ocean; white capped.  That's what the it looked like coming over the mountains, but it wasn't water; it was the storm, the wind and all the debris it was hauling with it." 

John and Sherry struggled to get themselves and Sherry's mother to the cellar in time. 

"I was trying to close the door, but the wind was pulling it open," John explained.

"You hear that the force of a tornado will pull you up off the ground, but it felt like something was pushing us down.  I know that was The Lord protecting us," Sherry shared.

The Flannerys all made it through the storm safely, but when they emerged from the cellar, all of their belongings, including the home they had shared for more than three decades, were destroyed.  With no place to live, the Flannerys are now staying in a trailer on their daughter's property, 10 miles away.  Sherry's mother was moved to Florida to live with her son.

When asked what they planned to do with what was left of their home, Sherry said, "I don't want to live here right now; I just don't think I could live here now."  But even after facing such loss and heartbreak, Sherry shared, "we've gained much more than we lost.  To see so many good people coming to help our community; people who don't live here and have nothing to gain from spending their time cleaning up this mess, it really gives you hope to see the genuine goodness in perfect strangers."

The Flannerys are trying to salvage what is left of their life in Woodsbend, but will likely sell the property and start over someplace else.  Unfortunately, not everyone in Morgan County can tell a similar story of hope. 

Yesterday, my crew and I worked on a site where a family of five once lived.  They tried to take cover when the tornado hit, but three members of their family did not survive.  In addition to losing all of their personal belongings, they lost three loved ones.  You cannot rebuild or recover the people you lose..  Hearing their story and seeing the complete devastation, both materialistic and personal, broke my heart. 

I ask everyone to please keep the people of Morgan County in your thoughts and send your prayers that they may, somehow, someday, find peace in their hearts.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Check this out.... FOX News coverage of our work in West Liberty.

It Happens on the Big Jobs

Our team suffered a few injuries, but we're tough and the work must continue!
I almost lost my head to a tree limb that came crashing into the cab of the Bobcat I was driving.  Sure, I probably could have used stitches, but who has time for a trip to the hospital??? Just stick a butterfly on it and I'm good to go!

As it turns out, Monica did need three stitches after a piece of tin caught her in the arm.  Don't panick people, it looks much worse than it actually was... she was a trooper though!

It happens on the big jobs.

Day One: Complete

Yesterday was our first full day of working on the clean-up in West Liberty, KY, and man, there was a lot of work to be done!

My crew and I were up by 3:30am and ready to get started.  I had an interview with FOX News at 5am and by lunch, it felt like we had already put in a full day's work.  We started the day working in an area called Liberty Heights; a residential area on top of a hill.  People's personal belongings, baby blankets, books, clothes, toys, journals, covered the once beautiful mountainside.  Residents' most private and intimate personal items were scattered, sometimes miles away from their home.  Houses that once stood tall and offered safety for a family, had been leveled by the tornado.  Pieces of tin were wrapped around tree tops, a true indication of the force of the deadly storm.

When we rolled in on Sunday, I couldn't believe my eyes!  I've seen a lot of heart-wrenching scenarios in my life, but the devastation of West Liberty is unlike anything I've ever experienced.  Main Street has been completely demolished, as you'll see in the slide show.  In a community like West Liberty, the family owned businesses are the heartbeat of the town; of the people.  As we drove down Main Street, I couldn't help but reflect on the blood, sweat and tears that went into building each of these businesses.

On the corner of Main Street and Prestonsburg Street, a 100 year-old church was left in crumbles.  This church, that represented so much of what West Liberty values, and had been a landmark in this community for a century, had been reduced to a few piles of bricks.  Some residents shared that the church had the most beautiful stained glass windows and one recovery coordinator was carrying a piece of one of windows with him, as if to keep the memory alive.

But existing right along with all the devastation is a strong sense of hope.  The people of West Liberty have hope, even if they have very little else.  It would be easy to get lost in the aftermath of the tornado and all the work that is now required to clean-up their small Appalachian town; they are facing years of recovery efforts.  But these people have a resilience, a will to take back what was theirs and build it back better than it was before.

Just like the gentleman carrying the piece of stained glass window from the church; the residents of West Liberty, Kentucky are ready to move forward; they are looking forward to the future, while never forgetting their past and it is that strength and perseverance that is the most important component of their recovery.

There's still much work to be done, so I've got to get to it...

Friday, March 16, 2012


Welcome, everyone, to my new blog and thanks for checking in!

I hope to use this blog to share my life experiences with others.  I'm new to blogging, so for all you veteran bloggers out there, please have patience as I learn the ropes.

I'm preparing for a trip to West Liberty, KY to help with the recovery efforts from the deadly tornadoes that recently swept through the community.  As you can see in the picture above, many people lost everything and the entire town is devastated.  Myself, along with three close friends, decided we couldn't sit around and do nothing when so many people need our help.  We have packed up our equipment, rented some heavy lifting machinery and we're headed east. 

I'll use this blog to keep everyone engaged with the efforts in West Liberty so continue to check in for updates, but please don't stop there.  I encourage everyone to do their part to help their neighbors; donate food, clothes, money; volunteer to help with the clean-up; at the least, send your prayers to the victims of the tornadoes. 

We'll be doing our part... I hope you'll join us.

See you in West Liberty!