Yard cleanup begins for Naperville homes impacted by 2021 tornado

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“I am kind of astonished and delighted that we’re here today seeing all this work happen,” said Kristy Kennedy, co-founder of Naperville Tornado Relief.

Naperville resident Kristy Kennedy is a member of a neighborhood that was in the path of the EF-3 tornado that swept through Naperville back in June of 2021. Now two years later, yard cleanup efforts to remove small glass and metal particles left behind in the soil have finally started.

“We view this as an environmental cleanup,” said Kennedy. “In 66 homes, the yards are being stripped out. The topsoil, the grass, four inches of dirt, and then all the debris that’s embedded in there. Every time it rains, that comes up. Fresh, clean topsoil is being added, and then a mat is put down, and grass seed.”

It’s work that wasn’t covered by insurance, but for the sake of barefoot kids and pets heading outside, was sorely needed.

Naperville Tornado Relief and the MP Foundation team up

It’s being completed thanks to the efforts of Kennedy, who teamed up with her neighbor Kelly Dougherty to raise funds for the fix, launching the Naperville Tornado Relief group.

They found support from the Naperville nonprofit MP Foundation, as well as local lawmaker, state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray. She took their cause to the Illinois General Assembly, which in January of this year provided a $1 million grant. A few months later, Naperville City Council voted to pitch in the remaining $500,000 needed for the cleanup.

“Any time a community like Naperville has an issue, we always look to our neighbors and our friends for help,” said Naperville Mayor Scott Wehrli. “The state of Illinois, the city, the prior city council, they heard their cries for help. Thanks to the MP Foundation here in the community, they were able to collect the dollars and get these yards corrected.”

Small debris in yards

The debris removal started on August 15, and should be completed in October.

“Glass, rocks, asphalt shingles, Tyvek nails,” said Hively Landscaping’s Matt Hively. “The beds we go through, handbrake them out, and then just by sight and a magnet we get the nails, turn the soil over and rough it because some of the stuff’s bedded down from the rain.”

The work crews are a welcome site for residents like Katie Long-Piper, who experienced firsthand the power and terror of the tornado.

“When the tornado hit, I was thrown into a wall and a two-by-four came through my well window, and impacted into the concrete right by my daughter,” said Long-Piper. “And then it was just explosions, explosions hitting my house.”

Though her home has been fixed, this last repair, which will help return what she calls her backyard sanctuary, means everything, and she’s grateful for those who’ve helped make it happen.

“(Stava-Murray) went to the state and she went to bat for us saying: this is the last hope of these people,” said Long-Piper. “When that happened and Kristy texted me, I just cried, my whole family did. We finally felt seen and validated. When the city finally stepped up and gave that last $500,000, it was like, this is the way it should be. Community taking care of community.”

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