AP NEWS

Woman finds new purpose after tornado destroyed her home

January 6, 2019
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This Thursday Dec. 20, 2018 photo, Hilda Hernandez, left, poses for a photo with her son Bryan Hernadez, 5, and Jesselyn Hernandez, 11 at their home in Lynchburg, Va. Hernandez says she has been blessed by overwhelming support from the community since she her mobile home was destroyed by a tornado. She now lives in a mobile home gifted to her family by Thomas Road Baptist Church. (Taylor Irby/The News & Advance via AP)

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Hilda Hernandez gestures in her kitchen, with a skillet sizzling on the stove and seasoned chicken ready to prepare on the countertop.

Several months ago Hernandez stood speechless amid the wreckage of her mobile home — the first home she had ever purchased. She was just two weeks away from moving in when an EF2 tornado hit the evening of April 15.

After four months spent improving the interior and exterior of the home at Brentwood Mobile Home Park off Lakeside Drive, Hernandez only needed the city to inspect a newly installed porch before she could settle in with her two young children.

In the time it took to nail a plywood board to the porch steps, the tornado flipped and flattened her home, dropping it a space away from its original location.

“Destroyed,” was how Hernandez described her feelings as she surveyed the damage April 16, with the blazing sun a stark contrast to the previous night’s foreboding funnel cloud.

Hernandez said she has been blessed by overwhelming support from the community since that day. She now lives in a mobile home gifted to her family by Thomas Road Baptist Church.

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“It has changed my life in every way possible,” Hernandez said about the new home through a translator during an interview. “I left everything in God’s hands and he answered.”

Sergio Guardia, pastor of TRBC’s Spanish campus, said the church became involved with Brentwood Mobile Home Park after learning there were several Hispanic families living there who needed assistance after the tornado.

Initially, TRBC staff and members of the congregation helped with cleanup, but the assistance morphed into much more after members of the Lynchburg community starting contacting the church to offer aid.

“We became the bridge between the people who wanted to help and the people who needed the help,” Guardia said. ”.We don’t just think of missions as what we can do overseas, but we do missions also by crossing the street sometimes and that’s what we were trying to do in this case. It is important to us because they are our community — when the community hurts, we are hurting.”

In the months following the tornado, TRBC coordinated cleanup and relief efforts at Brentwood, eventually building a playground in the neighborhood and moving in five donated mobile homes for families who lost everything, including Hilda Hernandez.

″(We thought) let’s not just clean the debris and donate a house, but we have to keep coming after this,” Guardia said. “If not, they feel abandoned. We don’t want them to feel abandoned. We want them to know we are there for good.”

Some of the homes required work, which Guardia said was a team effort.

“These (residents) invested just as much as we did,” he said. “Hilda would send her kids to school and then she would come work with us on the other trailers.”

Another Hispanic family that lost its Brentwood home in the tornado also helped get all donated mobile homes ready for new inhabitants. Guardia said it was important for the family to remain in city schools because their daughter has special needs.

“When we surprised them with their house, it was overwhelming,” he said. “They were crying, I was crying, everyone was crying because the girl is deaf and mute but she didn’t need to say anything. When she saw her room, she was looking around, she went in there and then she hugged her mom. Then she hugged me and her dad hugged me and we were all hugging . It is overwhelming to see these life-changing moments.”

Hernandez moved into her new home in June. She said her 11-year-old daughter, Josselyn,was”so happy” to finally have her own room.

“I am so grateful,” Hernandez said about the outpouring of support from the community. “Your gifts will be multiplied.”

Guardia said Hernandez “has been the door to bless other people in the neighborhood.” She now attends TRBC’s Spanish campus with her children and has started a small group Bible study in her home.

“Disaster can sometimes be a blessing in disguise,” Guardia said. “It was an opportunity for us to be boots on the ground in Lynchburg. Churches have to be a beacon of light for the community. When they’re hurting, we have to be there.”

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Information from: The News & Advance, http://www.newsadvance.com/