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‘We still have a long road’. Woodridge residents continue to rebuild one year after devastating tornado

On June 19, 2021, Violet Reeder celebrated her first birthday. On June 20, the roof of her nursery was torn off her home by a tornado.

Violet and her parents took shelter in the laundry room, quickly realizing a gas pipe had been torn out of the ground and their home was no longer a safe shelter from the whipping winds around them.

The Reeders are one of hundreds of families that were affected by the EF-3 tornado that swept through parts of Naperville, Woodridge and Darien nearly one year ago.

Now, the community is healing through helping others.

The tornado damaged hundreds of houses in the neighborhood near 75th Street and Janes Avenue in Woodridge.

Shortly after the destruction, Woodridge Mayor Gina Cunningham worked to put together the community group Neighbors Helping Neighbors. The group began as a response to the tornado and originally was part of the Rotary, but now is its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Aimed at helping its own community, the organization also hopes to help prepare other residents and communities for natural disasters, Cunningham said.

“We want to share what we really should be doing if there is a disaster because sometimes you really only have seconds,” Cunningham said. “I’m very proud that we’re able to say thank you to so many people, but we also know our work isn’t done.”

Residents such as Alexis Reeder, Violet’s mom, agree, and said there are many things people don’t consider until it’s too late. The Reeder family was displaced from their home for eight months, and Alexis said the return home has come with new safety practices and fears.

The Reeders were asleep at the time the sirens went off, so they had very little time to get their baby and reach a place of safety, Alexis said. Now, they sleep with a weather radio near their bed.

Joe Reeder, Alexis’ husband and Violet’s father, has always kept an emergency backpack in the house, but the family added some key items they realized they would have liked to have the night of the tornado. Their emergency backpack now includes towels, blankets and phone chargers, Alexis said.

“There was just no time to process. We left our house in the middle of the night and didn’t come back for eight months,” Alexis said. “We’ll never be the same as we were, and we just want to be as prepared as possible going forward.”

In addition to helping people have a safety plan and be prepared, Cunningham said Neighbors Helping Neighbors also hopes to inform better storm practices. One common but dangerous practice is the tendency to run outside to watch storms, something Valerie Tancredi and her son did the night of the storm.

Tancredi has lived in Woodridge for over 30 years and said she always ran outside to see what the storms look like, so she didn’t think twice about doing that same thing with her middle son the night of the tornado.

“It was instinctual to run out and see what was happening, but I’ll never do that again,” Tancredi said. “When your phone goes off, take shelter immediately.”

Tancredi and Reeder both said Cunningham’s efforts throughout the tornado recovery and the Neighbors Helping Neighbors program have been incredibly helpful and have brought hope during a period of long recovery.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors recently hosted a gratitude picnic to mark the tremendous support the community has had since the tornado hit, Cunningham said. The picnic was designed to bring neighbors together, she said.

“We still have a long road,” Cunningham said. “But we’re going to be able to help even more neighbors and help them learn how to be prepared because sometimes you really only have seconds.”