SO THEY CAN HELP OTHERS
Steve and Debbie Leatherman are among the thousands of families whose lives seemed on the verge of being ripped apart by the Joplin, Mo., tornado.
The couple is hardworking and dedicated to the community. Both of them teach at Joplin High School, working with at-risk students, building their students' knowledge and confidence so they can succeed after graduation.
When the tornado ripped through Joplin, Steve and Debbie were at a loss. Their home and two cars were gone; so was their dog that was later found hurt, but miraculously alive. The high school was destroyed.
Two questions consumed them during the hours following the tornado: How do we recover from this? And how do we recover quickly so we can help our students recover, too?
Months later, Debbie had an answer: "Hope and faith are what we've drawn from, and the encouragement of others."
She says it also helped that American Family was their insurance company.
"The night of the tornado I called American Family and got the nicest lady," says Steve. "And the next morning, we had an adjuster, Mark Vicidomini, waiting for us in our driveway at 8."
Their agent, Derek Holmes, rose above his own adversity to take care of them. Despite the fact his office was demolished in the tornado, Derek continually stayed in touch with them and answered their questions.
In a matter of days, Steve and Debbie received checks covering their home and cars. Debbie wept when receiving payment, less than a hundred feet from the family's flattened home. The family is building a brand-new home on the same spot.
"American Family cared for us as human beings," says Debbie. "We knew we were going to be OK."
Energized by a clear vision of their own recovery, Steve and Debbie set out to restore their students' faith.
A former department store and part of another school were converted to a temporary high school in time for classes to resume in the fall.
"It's a journey we never thought we'd go through," says Debbie. "Kids hurt, families hurt, but the school is a symbol of a community, and I'm thrilled to be a part of that," she says. "I've always loved being an educator, and I absolutely don't think I could do anything right now but that."
Debbie is helping her students through the healing process by encouraging them to write stories and make gifts for people they know. Students created cards and posters, wrote songs and made videos.
"The kids need us," says Debbie. "And we need them."