Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Holt continues rebuilding from tornado

John Michael Simpson

The tornado that swept through Tuscaloosa in late April left behind a wake of disaster and despair, but the Holt community, one of the hardest hit areas, has held onto one thing that keeps them going in the midst of tragedy: hope.

Holt Baptist Church Pastor, Rick Mitchell, said he’s been to a lot of disaster sites in his lifetime and he has never seen a community rebound from tragedy so quickly.

“The residents of Holt are self reliant, vigilant folks,” Mitchell said. “They’ve really gotten out there and worked hard to clean up and rebuild their community.”

Mitchell’s church, Holt Baptist, hosted the Holt Disaster Relief Shelter for almost five weeks after the tornado. After referring the remaining families to organizations focused on long-term shelter, the shelter was able to shut its doors for good in late May.

Now, the church’s primary mission is to house teams of people committed to certain projects of the rebuilding effort.

“We’ve had groups of people from all over the United States stay at the church,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes we’ll get a group of 10, other times a group of 50. The teams use our kitchen and we’ve set up trailer showers behind the church.”

But Mitchell’s church isn’t the only organization involved in the recovery effort.

Riz Shakir, president of Project Team Up, is also organizing community members to help restore the Holt community.

Project Team Up is an umbrella organization that brings together different businesses and non-profits in the area for a common goal: to rebuild the Holt and Alberta communities.

“We are a partnership organization,” Shakir said. “We partner with the community to focus on rebuilding efforts. We partner with individuals to determine their specific needs and then we partner them with organizations that can provide for those needs.”

Shakir said that the organization has had more than 4,000 volunteers help with the relief effort.

“Since the tornado, hundreds and hundreds of home owners have been helped,” Shakir said. “We’ve cleared debris, distributed food and water, given advice for medical and insurance issues and helped families find more permanent residences.”

Shakir said that this initiative is about moving forward and he feels confident in the communities’ ability to do so.

While the clean up phase of the effort is almost completed, Shakir said even more help will be needed for the rebuilding phase.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “The need is huge and we need everyone’s help.”

Shakir said he hopes some UA students will be willing to get creative and innovative to raise funds for this next phase of the recovery process.

In a meeting held by Holt Forging Ahead, an organization committed to rebuilding the Holt community, FEMA representative and leader of the Long Term Community Recovery Committee, Andy Schiffrin, presented a list of projects that he hopes the community will undertake.

The organizations biggest, and most pressing, project is the repainting of Crescent Ridge Road.

Where the road currently consists of four lanes, the county is hoping to reduce it to only three and add two side lanes for bikers and pedestrians.

Other projects that the residents of Holt are working on include a multi-use park that would be located behind Tuscaloosa’s Alternative School and a community center for recreational activities such as basketball and swimming.

“Holt is a community that has been devastated not only by the tornado but by other economic factors in recent years,” Schiffrin said. “But there really is a sense of hope in this community that I haven’t seen before.”

Bill Holly, pastor of Holten Heights Church of the Nazarene, offered words of encouragement to the nearly 40 community members that attended the meeting on Monday night.

“In the midst of this disaster, all the labels, the titles and the characterizations have been laid aside,” Holly said. “And what we are left with is a group that has come together as a team, as a community and as a family.”

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