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JoJo Macatiag, 31, a resident of Apison, Tennessee, was on his way to a long-awaited adventure: a hike through Canada and Alaska. He had driven his car to Chicago to get a passport, and would then head West on this trip. 

His plans were interrupted, however, when he received a call informing him that his stepdad’s house in Apison had been destroyed by a tornado. Even though Mocatiag had a fractured relationship with his 78-year-old stepdad, he turned his car around and drove the 620 miles back home. After arriving, Macatiag spent two weeks clearing his stepdad’s property, and salvaging what he could from the destroyed home. After the property was cleared, one of Macatiag’s friends, as a joke, hung a sign on the property that said “OPEN HOUSE,” a reference to the fact that there was no longer a house on the property.

After wrapping up work on his stepdad’s house, Macatiag began galvanizing volunteers to clear debrey and rebuild homes for the town’s uninsured residents, many of whom were old or impoverished. Macatiag began organizing crews every morning in his stepdad’s vacant lot, and they soon became known as the Open House Volunteers. Macatiag worked up to 20 hours per day leading these makeshift volunteer team. At night, he slept in his car or a chair on the lot, protecting tools and supplies from vandals. He didn’t take a day off until Thanksgiving, months after he arrived to help.

Soon, news of his effectiveness in leading volunteering efforts spread, and Macatiag responded to a request to help in a neighboring community when they too were devastated by another tornado.  

At long last, Macatiag planned to take a break from his volunteering efforts and hike the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT), which stretches from the border of Mexico to Canada. However, he hurt his leg fighting a house fire, and once again had to postpone his plans.

While recovering, he was summoned to help with two more communities hit by tornadoes: one in a neighboring Tennessee community, and one in Oklahoma. 

While he finally did get the chance to hike the PCT the following year, the selflessness and commitment Macatiag showed in altering his plans, and putting his life on hold, to come to the aid of others is an inspiration to us all.