Everything you know and everything you have can change in a moment. That’s what happened to the Mayo family in 2016, when an unexpected tornado hit their hometown in Ogden, Utah.
Utah, a state not well known for tornadoes, experienced a small tornado which briefly touched down during a thunderstorm in September 2016. Though small, the storm was strong enough to destroy at least 12 homes to the point of being uninhabitable.
The old house. credit: HGTV
One of the homes hit was that of Kelly Mayo and her daughter Michelle Smith. Mayo and Smith work at Legacy House of Ogden, an assisted living facility. They saved together to buy their little red brick house in Ogden, where they lived for over a decade with Smith’s daughter, Haylee.
Though they continued to live in their home after the storm, flooding in the basement and mold were a regular occurence. The home they loved so much was broken beyond repair.
“You knew something better was going to be there when you came back. But at the same time, we’d lived there for so long and had so many memories that I always said, the one thing that I probably would have done differently was went back through with the family one last time,” Smith said.
That something better was a brand new house. A former coworker nominated the Mayo family for HGTV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and in August they arrived on their front lawn to surprise them.
“I hope I never, ever, ever forget that feeling of when they showed up outside my door,” Mayo said. “My face didn’t break from smiles and crying. It was the biggest, happiest moment of our life as far as our home goes.”
If anyone deserves a new house, it’s the Mayo family. As the food service director of the assisted living home where she works, Mayo puts on special holiday dinners for residents, and outside of work she serves her community by participating in walks for Alzheimers and other service projects. As they serve their community, their community showed up for them.
“We always are amazed at how many people that didn’t even know us that heard our story and wanted to help,” Mayo said. “One of our neighbors was offered a place to go stay because [the construction] was right next to her home. And she said, ‘This is a once in a lifetime moment. I’m not leaving one inch.’ All of that love coming through from different people that knew us and that didn’t know us probably humbled us more than anything else I can imagine.”
While saying goodbye to their old home was hard, both Mayo and Smith agree that their new house is perfect for them.
“I love the whole house. There’s not a part of that house that I don’t love,” Smith said. “They couldn’t have done a better job at what they did.”
“They knew exactly what to do in each and every room to fit our personalities and everything,” Mayo added.
Smith’s daughter is a big fan of the new house, too. She finally has a bedroom big enough to store all her toys.
“There was nowhere to play. There was nowhere to set up any extra things,” Smith explained. “This year she was such a good girl, she got this huge Barbie doll home from Santa Claus and she put that in her big bedroom and she plays up there. She has friends over that can play up there.”
The Mayos say that their new home has helped them to get back on their feet and alleviated a huge financial burden. One of their favorite memories they’ve made so far is having all of their family over for Christmas.
“Using our home instead of having to go to somebody else’s was such a great thing for us that we can’t wait to do it again every year now,” Mayo said. “It’s our turn to take over, and we’re excited about that.”
Since losing the home they made so many memories in, the Mayos have been able to move some of their old memorabilia into their new house. Smith says that it’s finally starting to feel like home.
“One morning I was getting Haylee’s cereal and getting the new dishes out of the cupboard, and it felt like a vacation home; that you would go on a nice vacation and that this is going to come to an end and you’re going to have to go back to your drowning basement,” she recalled. “And then the realization hits you that nope, you can stay here forever. This is yours forever.”
Having lived in their new house for eight months now, the Mayos find themselves thinking about the residents of Tennessee, who recently experienced their own devastating tornadoes.
“I was thinking one day, man, I wish I could have Extreme Home Makeover just go to each one of their homes, too,” Smith said, adding some advice for those dealing with the aftermath of the storm. “Just know that it will all work out. Even if your home’s not 100 percent, you work through it. You just stay strong. Just keep praying and hopefully you have good neighbors and friends and loved ones like we did that will be there for them, too.”
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