Thunder Fans Rebuilding Together in Oklahoma

The sound of “hundreds of jet engines” swarmed overhead as Jamie Baker huddled in her 15-year-old daughter Kaylee’s closet.

With the deafening roar above a cyclone of nails and debris slashed through the air like so many knives as Baker huddled underneath blankets and eventually part of a wall that crashed on top of her. In that moment, she thought she wasn’t going to make it. Fortunately she pulled herself out of the pile that was her home that once stood a block away from Plaza Towers Elementary, and was able to reunite with her daughter.

Four months later, Jamie and Kaylee were joined by their long-time family friends, the Vinyards, at the Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Center. Keith and Pam Vinyard have four children and five dogs, and also lost their home during the May 20th tornado. Since then, both families have lived with family members as they get back on their feet and rebuild in the Moore area. With help from family, neighbors and Oklahomans in addition to organizations like the Red Cross, people in affected areas have been able to start getting back to normal in their own neighborhoods. Even school enrollments in the Moore area remain steady despite the tragedies.

“People said, ‘Are you crazy? You want to stay in Moore?’” Baker said. “And I say no, it makes me proud to be from here. This is where I was raised. It’s where my family is and my friends are.”

As a special surprise to reward that loyalty to the community and love for their hometown, Thunder players Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones and Daniel Orton dropped by to visit with the Baker and Vinyard families on Wednesday. Predictably, the players came away impressed and in awe of these Oklahoma families who are dedicated to stay in their neighborhoods.

“It shows the will of the human race to come back and say 'Home is where the heart is,'” Jackson said. “They want to stay there. It’s remarkable. They still want to come back and be a part of community that they hold dear and near to their hearts.”

Throughout the weeks and even months that followed the storms, Oklahomans from all areas put their lives on hold to do anything they could to help the recovery process. From organizations providing supplies at the curb of devastated houses, families driving down to Moore to assist clean-up efforts and support from the Red Cross, people in Moore, Shawnee and El Reno have been helping one another in every way imaginable.

“It was overwhelming, the support we received,” Keith Vinyard described. “Down the street there were people who were affected, and they were over there helping me look for my dogs. They had just lost their home… They were just there helping.”

With a great working relationship with the Thunder, the Red Cross has also been able to aid those in need over the past four months as much as they possibly could.

“The Thunder has been a partner with the Red Cross for many years now and has played a significant role in the community partnership piece for the Red Cross,” Janienne Bella, Red Cross’ Regional CEO, said. “It’s something that we rely on. It’s how the Red Cross gets through disasters, it’s how we respond and be ready for the community 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months out of the year. Without that support we couldn’t do what we do.”

For the Thunder, Wednesday’s visit to the Oklahoma Disaster Recovery Center, along with other areas throughout Moore where they met with families, teachers, students and school administrators, was rewarding and humbling. Players, staff and the organization as a whole has been active all summer to support Oklahomans who are in need, and moving forward will continue to aid recovery efforts throughout the Oklahoma City area.

“We always want to give back and wish we could do more,” Jackson said. “We want to do it one step at a time as a community and get it done together.”

“It’s amazing to me,” Baker said. “It’s just nice to know that people are still thinking about us because we’re still rebuilding our new normal.”