After tornado, rebuilding continues for UTMC employee

November 17, 2010 | Features, UToday
By Kim Goodin

Within the span of six months, Kelli Chovanec has lost a home, replaced nearly everything she owned, taken a new job, and learned she’s carrying a baby boy.

Kelli Chovanec and her daughters, Kathryn, left, and Breann, posed for a photo on the stairs of their new home in Delta.

Kelli Chovanec and her daughters, Kathryn, left, and Breann, posed for a photo on the stairs of their new home in Delta.

As she faces a few milestones during the upcoming holidays — the birth of her new son, to be named Jacob, around Dec. 16, and the passage of six months since a devastating tornado turned her family’s life upside down — Chovanec reflected on the generosity of community.

“What happened in June is going to be a part of me and my life forever,” said Chovanec, who recently completed her second week as assistant director of nursing on the sixth floor of UT Medical Center. “It’s something you take with you.”

Chovanec and her two daughters, Breann, 5, and Kathryn, 3, were hunkered in the basement of their Delta home when an EF2 tornado struck June 5. She remembers sobbing on her cell phone to her husband, Quinn, “I think our house is falling down!” as their two-story structure crumbled.

After the shell-shocked trio emerged to find their home disintegrated around them, the work really began.

Chovanec, who has been with UTMC for five years, said she and her husband had no idea where to turn for basic necessities. As they assessed their options from a hotel, dazed by the turn of events, a circle of help was already forming.

“I needed a ton of help, but I didn’t even know where to begin,” Chovanec recalled. “We needed everything.”

Local organizations, including the American Red Cross and the United Way, provided staples and steered the Chovanecs in the direction of further assistance. Friends, colleagues and strangers appeared with bags of clothing, food and gift cards. Meals were provided at a local church.

“One day, we came back to our house to find a bunch of people cleaning up all the trees in our yard,” Chovanec said. “Some of them were from the National Forestry Service, but others were just volunteers who raked for hours. They didn’t know me or my family. They didn’t even know each other, but they helped.”

Slowly, the family has begun rebuilding their lives. Chovanec and her husband sold their badly damaged home to a builder. Within a few months, the Chovanecs attended an open house in the place they once called home.

“The builder hugged us and was glad we came. She had found my baptismal gown and some photos during the rebuilding. They felt the love we had in the house.”

A few months ago, the family bought a home in Delta, which Chovanec has been furnishing in anticipation of her son’s arrival.

She looks back on the way relatives, friends, colleagues and community cared for her family with concern and said it isn’t possible to express the depth of her gratitude. Although she and her husband weren’t charity-oriented before the tornado, she said they’re rapidly becoming known as the “can’t say no” couple.

“When they ask you to buy a shamrock or give a dollar for charity, we always give now,” Chovanec said. “How could we say no with all the help we’ve been given?”

Once the Chovanecs settle completely — both physically and mentally — they intend to return the kindness they received.

“We don’t know how or when, but we’ll give of ourselves in the way people gave to us,” she said. “How do you express how thankful you are to people you don’t even know? I guess we just give to someone else.”

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UT Community Charitable Campaign supports those who assisted family

The Chovanec family received assistance from both the UT family and the northwest Ohio charitable family during its time of need.

Kelli Chovanec encourages the UT family to support the ongoing University Community Charitable Campaign.

Faculty, staff and students can ePledge by logging onto https://uwgt/ and using LBPSQGCATH as the user ID and KESPQPFOWJ as the password. Paper pledges also are available for each department’s UTC3 representative.

Donations support Community Health Charities of Ohio, EarthShare of Ohio, Northwest Community Shares and the United Way of Greater Toledo. Donors can select individual organizations under the umbrella of these federations to personalize their contributions.

Click to access the login or register cheese