Alabama group brings special perspective to Joplin
Sunday, June 3, 2012
JOPLIN (AP) — Among the thousands of volunteers who have already contributed to Joplin’s tornado recovery and the thousands more expected this summer, a group of teens from Alabama stands out for their rare perspective on disasters and spontaneous generosity.
They traveled to southwestern Missouri from Tuscaloosa, where a tornado killed more than 50 people on April 27, 2011 — less than a month before an even stronger one tore through Joplin and killed 161 people.
“I know what it feels like to walk into your backyard and see a bunch of people you don’t even know helping you for no pay,” 16-year-old Chris Cline told The Joplin Globe last week as he and his friends painted bleachers at a Little League baseball park.
“It’s a feeling you can’t explain,” he said. “I wanted to help everyone who was affected.”
The nine volunteers were on a mission trip from Tuscaloosa’s First Presbyterian Church. Todd Agee, one of the organizers, said it was “a calling” to leave Tuscaloosa behind for a few days and pay it forward to Joplin.
“We were so overwhelmed by the help we were able to get after the tornado that we just wanted to give back,” Agee said.
The volunteer presence in Joplin has varied slightly from month to month but remains high, said Cameron Coe, an emergency response team member and volunteer coordinator with AmeriCorps St. Louis, the organization assisting with long-term recovery efforts.
“It’s just staggering to realize how focused the rest of the nation is” on Joplin’s recovery, he said.
Coe noted a “huge spike” of volunteers in March and April, with AmeriCorps processing up to 500 per day. That number slowed to about 50 volunteers daily in late May but is expected to pick up again, particularly as Coe expects multiple groups this summer of 150 to 300 people.
For members of the Tuscaloosa group, volunteering in Joplin has a more personal feel because of their shared experience.
“The volunteer work (in Tuscaloosa) was the most we’ve ever had for any event in our city,” said Cline, whose house was damaged.
Julie Potts, 16, said her home in Tuscaloosa was undamaged, but she spent time afterward sorting clothing and cleaning debris in the tornado zone.
“We all kind of came together, and we had a common goal,” she said of her efforts in her hometown. “I felt really connected to people.”
When she heard later that her church was organizing a mission trip to Joplin, she knew she wanted to be part of it.
“I couldn’t really think of a better way to spend my time,” she said.