BETHEL ACRES — For the time being, Joel and Bettie Spears are living in a 26-foot camper trailer, situated just downhill from where a new, 1,300-square-foot home is being built on their Bethel Acres property.
Every day, they can join — or just watch — as volunteers from Crossings Community Church and Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity pour concrete or install windows or hammer down shingles on what soon will be their new home.
“It's a blessing. We're very, very grateful for all the help we've received,” Joel Spears said.
Spears and his wife are the first recipients of a Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity home in the aftermath of a deadly series of tornadoes in May that wiped out hundreds of homes including in Bethel Acres, eastern Cleveland County, Moore and Carney.
The nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry is committed to building about 400 homes over the next three to five years for families displaced by the tornado. Mainly, the organization is dedicated to helping those families who have no insurance or were under-insured when their homes were lost.
Joel Spears said he and his wife sought shelter May 19 in a neighbor's storm shelter, about a block from their 2,000-square-foot double-wide mobile home. When they emerged after the storm passed, their home was no longer on its foundation.
“It had been lifted up and moved about eight feet over. It was pretty much a mess,” Joel Spears said.
Their lender-placed insurance policy only paid off the mortgage, with nothing left over to rebuild or replace the lost contents.
As both Joel and Bettie are disabled — he was injured in an industrial accident, she has lost most of her hearing — they were unable to rebuild on their own.
On behalf of the longtime Bethel Acres residents, their daughter-in-law contacted Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity. The organization is dedicated to providing affordable housing for hardworking families with limited income.
The Spears fit the bill, said Ann Felton Gilliland, president and chief executive officer of Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity.
Gilliland said the organization has teamed with Crossings Community Church in a “blitz” building campaign to get the Spears house done.
Joel Spears said the framing began Oct. 15, and the completed house will be dedicated in a ceremony set for 11 a.m. Nov. 11.
The new home will be smaller than their former residence, but Joel Spears said he and his wife had been looking to downsize in the near future anyway.
“We just didn't expect it to come about this way,” he said.
Gilliland urges tornado-impacted families to fill out applications to determine eligibility for help from Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity.
She said many uninsured or under-insured people might not realize they fit the criteria for Habitat assistance.
“We are committed to helping restore normalcy for families getting their lives back together in the wake of the tornadoes. Central Oklahoma Habitat stands ready to help, and the process has never been faster or easier for those impacted by tornadoes,” she said.
The application process has been expedited for such families. While people who receive a Habitat home typically must contribute 300 hours of “sweat equity” to the project, that figure is only 50 hours for those affected by a tornado. It takes less than a week for a family to see whether they qualify for a rebuild, Gilliland said.
Habitat allows eligible families to purchase homes at cost and with zero percent interest.
For the Spears, who once teamed together professionally driving an eighteen-wheeler, the new home is an opportunity to get back on the road to recovery. They look forward to showing it to their four children and 11 grandchildren.
“We thank the Lord every day for all the help we've received,” said Bettie Spears.
Until the house is ready, Joel Spears said the couple will continue living in a camper trailer given to them by a Cleveland County family who used it as a temporary residence a year ago after their house was destroyed by a wildfire.
“So when we are done, if someone else needs it, they are welcome to it. We want to pay it forward for all the help we've received,” Joel Spears said.