Help from above

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Project manager Mike Madsen lays out shingles on a Sheldon Street house hit by the March 23 tornado.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Cleo Helker knew it was a matter of time before living in tornado alley would catch up with him.

Helker’s Sheldon Street home suffered extensive wind damage to the roof during the March 23 tornado that blew through Clovis.
Helker, 75, who is disabled, said he and his wife have lived in the house since the tornado struck, all the while they were at the mercy of the elements.

“Every time it rained, it would leak,” he said. “The house didn’t do that until the tornado hit.”

The Helkers no longer have to worry when it rains thanks to the Eastern New Mexico Disaster Recovery Council and community volunteers.

About 10 volunteers worked Friday and Saturday re-roofing Helker’s home, where he and his wife have been living for about 12 years.
The volunteers used materials paid for by donations to the Eastern New Mexico Disaster Recovery Council.

“If you were inside, you could see outside,” said Mike Madsen, project manager for the United Way of Eastern New Mexico. “On the south side of the house, the whole roof has been replaced.”

Helker was thankful of their efforts.

“They’re fast workers and they’re the nicest people you’ve ever seen,” Helker said. “You couldn’t meet up with any better people.”
Volunteers came from churches, Madsen said.

George Hughes, who attends Forrest Heights Baptist Church, volunteered his time Saturday along with his sons, Dennis and Larry.
Dennis, 39, nailed shingles to the new roof, while Larry, 34, helped his father work on replacing Helker’s chimney.

Dennis, who works at a welding shop in Portales, said he tries to do volunteer work when he can.

“It was one of those deals that worked out when (the project) was on a Saturday,” he said.

Mark Sanchez, a volunteer from the Beacon of Light church, said he has worked on two other houses hit by the tornado.

Sanchez, a construction foreman, said he signed up for the project when his pastor and employer at RCG Construction asked for volunteers for the project. Sanchez went through the church’s alcohol-recovery program nine months ago and does volunteer work whenever he can.

“Service work is what it’s all about,” he said.

The Eastern New Mexico Disaster Recovery Council was set up after the tornado to oversee the collection and distribution of funds.

Two people died, about 35 people were reported injured and 500 buildings damaged in the March 23 storm, according to local officials.