MLB, Habitat helps Alabama family rebuild

MLB, Habitat helps Alabama family rebuild

MLB, Habitat helps Alabama family rebuild
It wasn't until Patrice Johnson could see the light did she know her family would be safe.

A tornado had just devastated her Tuscaloosa, Ala., area home, walls and ceilings caving in around her and her children while they leaned up against the bathroom door. But as light began to shine down, she knew everything would be OK.

Tuesday was the final step in making sure everything was again.

Johnson and her four children -- KyAunte' Johnson, Kerra Lilly, Kiarra Lilly, and Katelyn Lilly -- finally got to see the finished product, their new house in Tuscaloosa, as Major League Baseball, Habitat for Humanity, State Farm Insurance and the Tuscaloosa Fire Department joined to make it possible.

"I've had help from so many people," Johnson said. "It's ridiculous. I'm so grateful for them. It's amazing what a bunch of strangers will do for your family and friends."

The three-bedroom house -- fully-furnished thanks also to contributions from Yankees reliever and Tuscaloosa native David Robertson's High Socks for Hopes foundation -- was built in a remarkable five days' time by local firefighters and other volunteers.

It was the 17th Habitat for Humanity home built in the area, and Tuscaloosa office manager Heather Poe said the organization hopes to help 50 families this year. Poe said the organization heard Johnson's story through her employer, Ara Mark, and wanted to lend a hand.

"She's just so incredibly thankful for everything that everybody has done for her," Poe said. "She's been out there working on the house with the firefighters the whole week. She's got four kids, and they're all precious."

There are four homes being sponsored in Tuscaloosa by Major League Baseball, State Farm and the Major League Baseball Players Trust and five in Joplin, Mo.

"I think it's a great message that they're sending out to other organizations and other businesses and raising awareness to what happened here in Tuscaloosa," Poe said. "It's great that they're helping with the money to help build these homes."

Johnson had heard the news that a tornado may be tearing through the area on April 27, and brought her children home safely before they were forced to take cover.

"When the power went out, I told my kids, 'It looks like the storm is going this way,'" she recalled. "As soon as I walked out to the kitchen and was telling my children, the front door blew off."

She grabbed the kids and ushered them into the bathroom, where she leaned up against the door to keep it shut. The bathroom ceiling was the first to give way.

"Now all we could do is pray," Johnson said. "Our whole house is falling apart. They started crying and we were praying, and then we could feel the light shinning down on us. My little girl thought someone turned the lights on, but I looked up and I could see the light shining down."

When the storm had passed, Johnson went outside to find a tree fallen on her car, and heard there was another tornado on its way. She gathered her children, took them to a nearby grocery store for shelter and stayed there before checking on her parents nearby to make sure they were alright.

Months later -- after living in a nearby apartment in the meantime -- she helped to put the finishing touches on her new home, painting base boards and doors, and lending a hand in the construction.

"It was so cool. It really was so cool," Johnson said. "I really enjoyed it. I didn't think they could actually get it up like that in one day. In the morning, it was just the foundation, and by the afternoon, they had it up. "It was like nothing I'd ever seen in my life."

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.