Survivor Stories

Larry and Tina Potter

Larry and Tina Potter faced the full force of the devastating tornado that struck Mayfield on December 10th, 2021. Their home, directly in the tornado’s path, was severely damaged. In a moment of crisis, they shielded their two grandsons, Justin and John, until the storm passed. After detecting the smell of gas, they walked to the nearest fire station.

The scene outside was one of chaos and destruction. The neighborhood bore the scars of the tornado’s fury—a collapsed water tower, a daycare dragged from its foundation and stranded in the middle of the street.

“We lost almost everything,” Tina recalled. “I had just made my third payment on my van when it was destroyed on the 10th. It’s hard to put into words.”

The aftermath of the tornado was a challenging period for the Potters. They moved from place to place until they found temporary housing in a donated camper situated in their pastor’s backyard. The search for affordable rentals in the area was a challenge, with many properties either damaged by the storm or too costly.

“We couldn’t find anything we could afford,” Tina explained. “It felt like rental prices had gone way up. There was nothing in the area because the tornado took out a lot. And I didn’t want to move out of the county. I like living in the Graves County and Mayfield area.”

For nearly two years, they made do in the cramped camper. Tina said the hardest part was not having room for the kids to play. They would get out of the camper on nice days, but two little boys needed room to play, and her husband felt like they were “stuck in a tin can.”  

They found hope when Samaritan’s Purse approved them for a new home in the New Hope Acres community. “We had a lot of people that reached out and helped: churches, the Long Term Recovery Group, and Samaritan’s Purse,” Tina remarked gratefully.  

While waiting for their new home, they were assisted by a Disaster Case Manager named Heyde, who helped them replace essential items lost in the disaster.

“We needed basic kitchen appliances, towels, and stuff like that,” Tina explained. “Through Long-Term Recovery, Heyde helped us get sheets, blankets, towels, some kitchen appliances, and other stuff we needed. Because I didn’t have any of that. I only had one frying pan and one saucepan. It’s all I had in the camper.”

Their new beginning arrived on December 15, 2023, marking over two years since the tornado. The boys were ecstatic, and the Long Term Recovery Group continued to support them in settling into their new home.

“Heyde even brought a ‘Welcome’ mat on the day we received our house, and she brought stuffed animals for the boys. It brought tears to my eyes,” Tina shared emotionally. “It’s the little things that she and the Long Term Recovery Group did just to make us feel more comfortable.”

Reflecting on their journey, Tina hopes their story inspires others to seek help when needed.

“Reach out. Don’t think that other people need it more than you,” she advised. “You need emotional support, and a place to call home. The Long Term Recovery Group reached out and gave me information on where I could have some to talk to. Samaritan’s Purse built me a home. There is always help somewhere.”

Tina said she is forever grateful to Samaritan’s Purse, her case manager Heyde, the Long Term Recovery Group, and many others for what they have done to help families like hers in Mayfield and Graves County recover.

“We now have a home and a place for the boys to grow up and call home. I love this neighborhood. I’ve met the neighbors on this end on and on that end. I have new neighbors across the street, and when they got their home dedication, I went to welcome them home,” Tina reflected. “Because to me, it’s a community.” 

Cheryl Johnston

Cheryl Johnston has her daughter Ashley to thank for not being in her home during the time of the tornado on December 10th, 2021.

“I was home and didn’t plan to leave. I didn’t really think the tornado would happen, but my daughter, Ashely, was in Metropolis and could see the strength of the storm on the news. She convinced me to leave my home just 15 minutes before it hit,” Cheryl said.

After the storm passed, Cheryl’s son, Michael, drove over from Possum Trot to survey the damage to her home. It took over an hour to get to the house because of all the damage in their neighborhood. Initially it looked like a direct hit to a shed in Cheryl’s back yard had spared her home from significant damage, but the roof of her home has been lifted and then dropped back in place causing her home to sustain a lot of roof and water damage.

Cheryl had insurance and thought everything would be fine, but as many homeowners
discovered during the rebuilding process, insurance and assistance from organizations like FEMA didn’t cover all the expenses.

Cheryl had been living in a hotel awaiting the repair of her home and was ready to get back into it. “I was just tired of it and was finding it difficult to stay there,” said Cheryl. She realized it was going to be on her to fix her home.

“I’ve always been a fighter. I figured if it needed to be done and I could figure it out, I’ll do it,” said Cheryl.

Cheryl enclosed her own roof and fixed the home’s broken windows herself.

“Every time I went to Lowes, I looked for an employee named Jeff because he was so helpful!” said Cheryl

A lot of volunteers and other survivors helped Cheryl, too. Kentucky Changers volunteer group helped with the repairs to her home, and the LTRG Support group has helped Cheryl deal with the emotional aftermath. Hearing the stories from survivors from the candle factory was very eye-opening. The support group has been good for Cheryl because the experience of recovering and rebuilding after the tornado has hit her harder than she expected it to. Sharing with the others in the group helps Cheryl to process all she has been through and helps her move forward.

Cheryl has also benefited from being a part of the LTRG’s case management program.

Cheryl started working with case manager, Heyde Hackel, in July of 2021. “Heyde should get an award! She is the best! She has been wonderful to work with! She is so kind and compassionate,” said Cheryl.

In recovery work, you often hear that a community and its survivors need to “own” their own recovery. As the residents of Mayfield have seen, people will come from all over to volunteer to help, but an important step in recovery is to find the resources available to help yourself as you become able to do so. Cheryl has done just that, by utilizing many of the resources offered to help her.

Laura McKiver

The tornado on Dec 10th, 2021 took a lot from Laura McKiver, but she has not lost her love for family and her sense of gratitude for the volunteers who are helping her rebuild her life.

McKiver, a retired military veteran lost her home and all belongings in the tornado.

Her family has struggled with being displaced to a hotel in Paducah and a friends’ basement before being accepted for the Mayfield Graves County’s New Lease on Life program.

The Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG) is purchasing vacant homes around Graves County and is utilizing partners, volunteers, and donated items to make repairs and improvements. The homes are then matched with survivors in need of housing. The survivor leases the home and then has the opportunity to purchase the home after one year.

Laura’s case manager, Rose Sherron helped Laura apply for the program and has been assisting Laura with her recovery needs. “Rose is a real sweetheart! I am so proud and excited to be a part of the New Lease on Life program. I keep in touch with Rose almost every day sending her pictures of the progress on the home and getting her help as I pick out things for the home.” Laura said.

“I try to go by the home every day to thank the volunteers and help with the repairs.  I enjoy meeting new people and I want them to know how grateful I am that they are here to help.” Laura said.

A volunteer group from Pennsylvania included a 10 year-old boy that Laura befriended. “We still keep in touch! I send him pictures of the progress on the house.  He even sends me a text just to say good night sometimes!” Laura laughed.

So many homes in Mayfield are being repaired and rebuilt from volunteers across the country. It’s hard to imagine the impact these volunteers are making not only in the rebuilding process, but in restoring the spirit of our survivors.

Much progress has been made, but there is still so much work to be done. If you are interested in volunteering In Mayfield, email our volunteer coordinator Austin Avallone at or fill out our volunteer form on our website:

Thomas Woodward

When Thomas Woodward returned to his home after the storm, he was left with nothing but the clothes on his back and the shoes on his feet. Everything he had ever owned was literally blown away into a nearby field and beyond.

Trying to recover what he could scattered across the field was overwhelming for Woodward, but soon twenty-one people in yellow shirts from the group 8 Days of Hope offered to help him recover what he could.

Woodward says even though they only found a knife here and another knife there, knowing that so many were here to help, was an encouragement to Woodward.

From that very first night, God said “I’m here.”

Thomas also benefited from assistance from Northside Baptist Church, Hope Initiative, Samaritan’s Purse and Mayfield Graves County LTRG’s case management partner, Disaster Recovery TWKUMC.

“I have been so blessed to work with my Disaster Recovery case manager, Mary Kate. She is a good christian woman who works hard to serve others,” said Woodward.

“I wasn’t down in the dumps or ‘asking why me,’ but Mary Kate really helped by just saying ‘I got this.’ Anytime an obstacle came up, she knew how to take care of it,” said Woodward!

Thomas knows that many in our community still need help- and to them he says “Don’t give up hope! There is so much hope here in Mayfield! So many jewels in our community have helped me in so many ways! So just hang in there! I’m praying for you.”