"We didn't have, like, any damage, but just driving around town there were people with half their house destroyed, and I just wanted to raise money so we could help them, help people rebuild," he said.
A young boy in Iowa has hit a home run with his efforts to help rebuild his community following a late summer derecho that wreaked havoc upon his home state. 12-year-old Tommy Rhomberg has raised thousands of dollars for victims of the massive derecho that hit Iowa in August with winds of up to 140 mph. He made and sold nearly 115 baseball bats out of wood brought down by the storm. "We got kind of lucky with the derecho," the teen told CBS News. "We didn't have, like, any damage, but just driving around town there were people with half their house destroyed, and I just wanted to raise money so we could help them, help people rebuild."
The idea for 'The Great Derecho' bats began with Rhomberg's plan to do something special for his friend, whose birthday had also been upended by the powerful storm. "I knew his favorite sport was baseball, and I thought it'd mean a lot to him if he got a baseball bat for his birthday," he said. Rather than buying one from the store, the teen decided to make one with his own hands. Soon, word got out about the homemade bat and suddenly everyone — including his mom Amanda Rhomberg — wanted one of their own.
"I kind of thought, 'Oh, shoot, Tommy. I think I would like one. Would you make me one?' And he told me 'no,'" Amanda said with a laugh. "He still had blisters on his hands." The growing demand for his homemade bats gave Rhomberg the idea for The Great Derecho — bats made out of wood brought down by the storm. "I just wanted to make a nice gift for my friend. I didn't know people would be so interested. But, since so many people in our area need help after the storm, let’s work together to make a difference for them," he said on his website.
Explaining his thought process behind the bat's name, he said: "Since it was made out of a tree branch that fell in my yard from the Derecho storm, I thought it would be a good name. And it kind of sounded like 'The Great Bambino' from Sandlot." Since the first bat took Rhomberg 10 hours to whittle and sand, the family has since bought a lathe which helps speed up the production time. "Since so many people have asked, I am making bats for people so they can remember this tragic storm and help people who are suffering because of it. $20 of every bat purchase will be donated to The Greater Cedar Rapids Foundation Disaster Relief Fund," said Rhomberg.
The teen works on the bats after he's done his homework and on the days he's doing school virtually. "I almost feel like this is a school in itself, you know?" his mom said. The bats, which are approximately 30 inches long, are priced at $100 each. "This whole thing is a learning opportunity and service project for Tommy. He's running it like a business; tracking his expenses, doing customer service, marketing, and making the bats. It's been a lot of fun and a lot of work. And, because he's sold a lot of bats he'll be able to give a substantial amount of money to the Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. So, hopefully, when all of the expenses have been paid and bats are shipped, Tommy will have made a little profit. With that profit, Tommy will either save the money for college or maybe start a new project. It will be interesting," explained the website.
So far, Rhomberg has made about 115 Great Derecho bats and donated more than $2,500. When asked what he feels about his accomplishments, he said: "I feel like it's really helping people."