Photograph by Mark Schiefelbein
One year after the deadly tornado that decimated the town, Joplin is looking forward to healing and recovery. One such story of healing is from Joplin grief counselor and founder of Life Preservers Grief Support Ann Leach, who was featured in the August 2011 issue of SLM. Leach's home was destroyed during the storm (see photo at left), and she nearly died, save for a piece of sheetrock that sheltered her from flying debris. Last August, Ann spoke of the strong sense of community in Joplin and her hopes for the town's recovery. Today, we caught up with her to see how her year has been and find out more about her latest project, the Creative Cottage, a historic bungalow she recently converted into part home for herself, part retreat to help grief-stricken individuals find hope and healing in their own lives.
What does today mean for you?
I've had so many blessings in the past year. It’s like the tornado blew the roof off of what was possible for my life. Talk about expansion. Every area of my life is just bigger and better. It’s kind of odd. Tiring and draining but yet just so filled with life. You just feel the feelings and honor those moments when it’s not so great and let people know that you’ll get through it and make it to the other side. I've declared it “International Letting Go Day.” I just want to recognize that there are still so many people around the world who wish they could do more to help Joplin. My idea was to ask everyone to let go of something, whether it’s an item of clothing, an old belief, an unhealthy relationship. Joplin had to let go of a lot, but we learned it was just stuff. What’s important is the connections we have with each other.
How did your idea for the Creative Cottage come together?
Moving into this historic bungalow last September was the start of it. It was set up as a duplex, so I thought I would rip the wall out in the living room and bring the staircase down and utilize the whole house, but I put that on hold. I waited a few months, and then I realized I could move my Life Preservers business up there and have this place where my clients could come from around the country and have this VIP experience and work with me personally and give themselves permission to have a little retreat. Then, at the end of it, I'd help them create a visual map of their next steps when they got home. So, I went down to the city and told the city planner what I wanted to do, and he said the closest license he could think of would be a special-use permit as a bed and breakfast, so I went for that. For my work, I really just wanted to do a two-day experience a couple times a month. I thought now that I’ve gone through this process and it’s available, I might as well open it up to the community, so that’s when expansion really started to happen. I realized you can fit about seven people comfortably in the upstairs living room, which I thought would be great for a little discussion group or a small work team that would like to come and do a brainstorming session, so that’s even more of the possibilities that I see for the place.
My tagline is that Joplin’s rebuilding and so can you. Come to this historic home with a strong foundation and work on rebuilding yours. What better place to do it than Joplin?
What do people experience when they come to the Creative Cottage?
The grief counseling part is a two-day retreat, and you have the option to add on things like a grocery package, horseback riding, and pottery. However, I’m calling it Life Preservers at the Creative Cottage because I realize that not everybody’s going to want the Life Preservers part. Some people might want to come there for their own break or whatever. You can stay as long as you want. The cottage officially opened for visitors on May 1, and I'm working on coming up with half-day rates and a full-day rate.
Is this something you had thought about doing before the tornado?
I’ve always wanted to do retreats, but I wanted them to really be retreats as opposed to just being in a hotel or at a bank meeting room or that kind of thing, so it’s been in the back of my mind but I hadn’t put a lot of thought into what that would look like.
Have you received support from the community?
Absolutely. A furniture company gave me the furniture for the house on consignment, which was amazing. There's a gift shop downtown, Blue Moon Market, and they donated motivational signs and pillows. A local carpet company gave me a discount on the carpet, which made the area feel much more warm and welcoming. I don’t call them sponsors because they’re doing so much, but the businesses that have signed on to help me, I think part of the reason why is because they want a place to showcase Joplin and what they’re contributing so that we can tell the world that Joplin is ok. We’re going to be just fine. It’s just very exciting to see how it’s all coming together.
Well the domain name I got is creativecottagejoplin.com, so there could be creative cottages other places, but I think what I’m really being led to right now is creating a manual for other towns on how they can do this too.