By Cindy Solomon for the Tennessee Conference
Eerily quiet outside in the early morning of March 3, East Nashville resident Valerie Whitehead was watching TV. She knew there was a tornado warning for her area and something seemed off. Around 1 a.m., she switched channels to a local news affiliate.
“I had put our daughter, Chloe, to bed earlier and I was waiting for the storm to come,” said Valerie Whitehead. “The first thing I heard the meteorologist say was to get into your basement or safe space if you lived on Riverside Drive.”
The Whiteheads’ home is located one block off of Riverside Drive.
“We had four minutes to get to safety,” Whitehead said. “My husband, James, and my father-in-law, who is disabled, were both asleep.”
Initially, James didn’t believe a tornado was imminent because there were no sirens going off or cell phone warnings lighting up his phone. By the time James realized the threat was real, precious moments had passed.
While Valerie rushed to get Chloe into the basement of their home, James quickly went to assist his father. As the tornado hit their home, the best James could do was shield his paralyzed father. Afterward, James said he could feel the tornado trying to lift him off his father’s bed.
After the threat had passed, Valerie ran up the basement stairs and was met at the door by James. Miraculously, none of the Whiteheads were hurt.
Their home and personal property, however, didn’t fare so well. More than $195,000 worth of damage was sustained.
“The roof was gone, rain was pouring into our home, and there was glass everywhere from broken windows,” Valerie said. “Thankfully, my husband and father-in-law weren’t cut by the glass that surrounded the bed.”
The damage was so extensive that the Whiteheads had to find temporary housing while James, who continued working full time, attempted making needed repairs to their home. While the family’s insurance company worked quickly to issue them a check, the insurance money ran out before all the repairs could be made. This meant the family had to pay for not only the remaining cost of repairs but also finance a mortgage note and rent.
Scrambling to find additional tornado recovery help, Valerie applied for FEMA assistance. Their claim was denied.
Fortunately, the Whiteheads’ tornado survival story has a happy ending. Right after the tornado, neighbors and coworkers brought food and gift cards. Community organizations, such as the American Red Cross, provided money for clothing and other needed supplies.
Another key group, Tornado Recovery Connection (TRC), played a significant role in the Whiteheads’ recovery as weeks of repairs turned into months of restoration. In partnership with the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Committee on Relief, TRC disaster case managers connect survivors with community organizations that help survivors navigate home repairs, replace household items, and remove debris. The groups also offer mortgage and rental assistance and provide resources for mental health, food, insurance mediation, and legal aid.
In the Whiteheads’ case, James spotted TRC’s name on a list of places offering tornado recovery assistance. Valerie learned about their existence after calling 211 for tornado-relief information.
Working with TRC Disaster Case Manager Heather Marriott, the Whiteheads received assistance with rent and home repairs. Thanks to the connections Marriott made between the Whiteheads and community agencies such as Westminster Home Connection, Community Foundation of Middle TN, Rebuilding Together Nashville, Cross Point, Catholic Charities, and Rooftop, the family moved back into their restored home at the end of February 2021.
“Heather was the conduit that made the connections happen,” Valerie said. “She helped us rebuild our life and get our home back. If it wasn’t for TRC, I don’t think we would be in our house right now. The help TRC and other community agencies provided blew my mind.”
Today the Whiteheads are putting the finishing touches on their home and moving forward with their lives. In the future, Valerie hopes to help other families facing disasters—possibly volunteering with TRC or another community charity such as Hands on Nashville.
“I am so thankful for everyone who helped our family,” said Valerie. “There are good people out there are waiting and willing to help. All you have to do ask.”
If You Want to Know More
After the April 2021 flooding, Tornado Recovery Connection changed its name to Disaster Recovery Connection. Help is available for flood survivors in Davidson and Wilson Counties. For more information, visit of www.nashvilleresponds.com/assistance/.
Westminster Home Connection Executive Director Keith Branson said, “We worked with Tennessee Conference’s hired disaster case managers (trained by the United Methodist Committee on Relief—UMCOR) during the 2010 flood and now the 2020 tornado recovery. These disaster case managers extend loving care to people in our communities that have been overwhelmed by natural disasters of great magnitude. They work with each survivor to develop their recovery plan and refer survivors to us for repairs and rebuild. The Tennessee Conference is a skillful and compassionate partner. We couldn’t imagine anyone better to see that even the most vulnerable survivors can recover from this disaster!”
Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer from Franklin, Tennessee.