Tornado Repairs Started With Hugs

Karen and Randall McCleskey bought their home because of the builder. And they hired the same builder to renovate it before they moved in. But all it took was seconds to undo months worth of work, and just about everyone wanted to cry.

But they didn’t bank on someone from the crew at Hawkins-Welwood Homes actually getting teary-eyed when he saw the damage the EF3 tornado wrought on all that hard work.

“They were over quickly to check in on us and one of the workers that had done some of our renovation and spent quite a bit of time here, literally walked in the front door and started crying and hugged us,” Karen recalled. “He was just so sad. After working on our house and having it complete and nice – and then just all that work destroyed.”

“This is a big burly guy,” Randall said. “He came in and he got very emotional and sad. I had to hug him and tell him it was gonna be OK, that it was just a storm.”

But that story didn’t surprise Hawkins-Welwood’s John Hawkins, who said that he aims to make sure customers feel like family.

John Hawkins

“We say, if Kelly (Onega, sales manager) and I go to a meeting and we are selling, this isn’t about building a home, this is a lot of long-term relationships, and we really believe that,” the company founder and president said. “So that project manager that was so upset? We go back for years and fix things and help homeowners with things because I tell my people, we are really not home builders, we’re customer service representatives.

“We really do believe that we have good relationships on a long-term basis with our homeowners – just because that’s how we roll.”

Hawkins went out himself that night to see how many of the Preston Hollow homes his company built were left standing. He was confident that his teams had crafted homes that could stand up to a lot – but a massive tornado in an area that took a direct hit? 

He didn’t know quite what to expect.

“Well, on Sunday night, I was out there,” he said. “We had two houses under construction and I could get to on Brookshire, but literally physically could not safely get to one we had on Pemberton – there were electrical lines down, and a policeman just said, ‘Look, you know, you face a real danger,’ so I called it a night about 10:30, but then Monday morning with the benefit of light, all of our guys were checking up on all our homeowners that we had most recent experiences with.”

The company’s first goal was to get the homes secured from the elements, then they ordered new shingles. Windows were next, because they had the longest wait time. But in between waiting for that, the crews also helped fix damaged fences, trees, and landscaping, as well as help homeowners with filing insurance claims. 

“We were at those houses as part of what you might call triage, where we were getting tarps and covering roofs,” Hawkins said. “It rained on either Tuesday or Wednesday after the tornado, so we were under a lot of pressure because we could see the forecast coming and we had to get their roof covered before the rain because they were in pretty bad shape.”

But as it turns out, the biggest obstacles to getting families back in their homes wasn’t the downed power lines and debris – it was getting insurance claims squared away, and getting permits to do the work.

“We became kind of an advocate for the homeowner,” he said.

“I have to say that the Hawkins-Welwood team, they were the best – they were really great and, and several other people that have built for in this neighborhood would say the same,” said Karen. “They were at our houses checking right away, asking, ‘What can we do? How can we help?’ And when we needed tarps and we needed quick action, they did it.”

See more of the McCleskey’s story here.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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