VOICES: After the tornadoes, our neighborhood rallied with resilience

It’s been five years since the Memorial Day tornadoes went through Old North Dayton. They caused a lot of damage and some residents are still trying to recover. Our landscape will never look quite the same.

However, five years out, I’d like to focus on the good that came from this terrible event. Immediately following the storm, the entire neighborhood rallied together. Within days, neighborhood leaders had coordinated with city officials to orchestrate a massive cleanup of debris. This brought many new partners into our network that have been working with us ever since, like Declare Dayton, which continues to host city-wide cleanups every spring. Local stores immediately started donating bottled water because even those who incurred no property damage were left without electricity or water for days. Representative Phil Plummer showed up with an entire pallet of water and from there on we had Dayton Children’s coordinating the other donations flooding the neighborhood.

Of course, FEMA and other state and federal agencies arrived promptly to start coordinating their resources. The Salvation Army Kroc Center was there from day one and for many months on utilizing their resources and campus for on-site outreach. And we had myriad examples of small (sometimes even one-person) local organizations bringing boots to the ground helping however they could.

We had Kris Horlacher from Shoes for the Shoeless immediately shift to passing out food, then back to shoes and other items, from the back of her van. We even had Rusty Hull Woodworking gather fallen tree limbs and craft them into candle holders for sale as a fundraiser, netting over $2,000. Monetary donations were made by individuals, neighborhood groups, our neighborhood social clubs, and many others. In total, the neighborhood association collected around $20,000 – all of which went directly to those neighbors whose homes were damaged, supplementing the millions of dollars raised and managed by the Dayton Foundation for long-term recovery.

We were blessed to have local roofers provide reduced rates and had the United Methodist and Lutheran Church networks offer their volunteer labor for many of the needed repairs. We had churches throughout the Miami Valley reaching out to help with money and food and fellowship. We went door-to-door with local agencies offering to replant trees destroyed in the tornado. And the City of Dayton continues to apply much needed priority to Old North Dayton when determining how to spend Dayton Recovery Plan funds.

Today, our residents are eligible for free renovations for single-family, owner-occupied homes through the Dayton Energy Collaborative Home Repair Network. CountyCorp is offering free downpayment assistance for first-time homebuyers in Old North Dayton. We are slated to have many of our sidewalks repaired and many blighted structures demolished. And we will hopefully have new, market-rate townhouses constructed at The Point – the entry way to our neighborhood at Valley and Keowee Streets – a great addition to ongoing efforts to make Point Park at the same location both a neighborhood and regional attraction.

Neighborhood leaders continue to work with local, state, and federal officials to learn from our response to the emergency spawned by those tornados to make sure we are better prepared for the next one.

So, yes, the night of the tornadoes was terrible. We suffered great losses that could have permanently destroyed our neighborhood. But we rallied with resilience to keep Old North Dayton a place where people want to live and work and celebrate both our history and our future. Tragedies such as these will always be remembered by those who experienced them and our hearts continue to go out to those most directly impacted, but equally important is focusing our energy for good and lasting improvements that make our neighborhood strong and vibrant.

I am privileged to be part of this neighborhood and to bring attention to all we are doing to make it better.

Matt Tepper is a neighborhood leader in Old North Dayton with past work experience in community and economic development.

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