JOPLIN — A dozen Kentucky volunteers who know what it's like to lose everything are joining the relief effort in tornado-stricken Missouri.
The volunteers are from a homeless shelter in Lexington, Ky., where they saw the devastation on TV and decided to take action.
They headed to Joplin on Tuesday, ready for more than a week of 12-hour work days to help people who lost their homes when the city was struck by the May 22 tornado. Nearly a third of the city was damaged, and more than 130 people were killed.
David Hosey, who has been homeless for about four months, said he looked forward to making a difference and encouraging storm victims to keep their heads up in the face of adversity.
"I love my country," the Vietnam War veteran said in a phone interview. "I have a lot to give back. And it's the right thing to do."
The volunteer group includes 10 people — eight men and two women — who are currently homeless and two others who used to be homeless, said organizer Ginny Ramsey. The volunteers underwent background checks and received physicals and tetanus shots.
Ramsey said the team, which includes two supervisors, will spend at least eight days assisting in the massive cleanup effort. Some of the volunteers have backgrounds in construction work that will come in handy, she said.
"They are going to be doing some hard work," she said.
She expects the volunteers to benefit as much as the storm victims.
"There is nothing that revives the human spirit more than to know that you're needed, and then to put your energy into it," she said.
"Experiencing homelessness doesn't make them any different from the rest of us. Their compassion is there; their ability is there."
The group will sleep on air mattresses in a home being converted into a bed and breakfast, Ramsey said. They will receive no pay, but their expenses will be covered. Work supplies including boots, gloves, goggles and hard hats were donated.
The volunteers went through training sessions and helped collect donated goods being sent to storm victims, Ramsey said.
Ramsey, a co-director of the Catholic Action Center in Lexington, said the homeless have a special perspective on the suffering felt in Joplin.
One volunteer, 26-year-old Christina Carl, said, "I know what it is to be homeless, and a lot of these people have lost their homes. I can kind of identify with them in some situations. I just want to try to help and give back because a lot of people are helping me right now."
The volunteers signed paperwork outlining what's expected of them, including following orders from supervisors during long hours of work. They will be expected to stay clear of drugs or alcohol, but Ramsey doesn't expect that to become an issue.
"For most of them, it's drinking to fill their void," she said. "Now they've got a purpose."
Once their stint is up in Joplin, the volunteers will return to Lexington.
"These are people that are quite capable of the work," she said. "It's just that they don't have jobs now. And they don't have homes now. But they can still give."