88-year-old man getting new home after destructive tornadoes

88-year-old man getting new home after destructive tornadoes

ESSEX, VA (WWBT) - At 88 years old, Lewis Johnson has spent the majority of the past year doing work around the house for a family that's given him a place to live.

After Johnson's house was destroyed by a tornado in February 2016, volunteers are now giving back to him.

Tim White is a former construction worker who's leading a group of volunteers on building this house.

"You just find ways to put people to use," said White. "Once you show people how to do something, they can do it. It's really just about the heart and motivation to do it."

Johnson is that motivation.

The home he was born in, in 1928, was destroyed by the tornado. The volunteers working on his new home are organized by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, or UMCOR.

Forrest White oversees this project and several others like it.

"The people come first, the project is second," said White. "They are at some point in a healing process and we are there to offer them comfort and an ear to listen. We don't always have answers. Some things in life don't make sense, but we believe it's our presence there that reminds them that God is with them and God has not abandoned them."

Johnson has made a point to come out to the job site a few times, even lending a hand to show his appreciation.

White and the other volunteers say helping Johnson get back into a home is giving them a lot in return.

"There's a lot of divisiveness in the world now," said White. "So for me personally, I wanted to quit focusing on that and just start working in the community. If we can fix our own community then I think the rest of the world will take care of itself and we worry about our own backyard first."

There are still a few homes that volunteers will work on during the next year -- they hope to have Johnson's finished up in a few weeks. All of this work organized, and much of it paid for, by the faith community here in Essex County.

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