This is a personal “From the Field” story by Direct Relief Employee Alivia Birdwell, Partner Liaison for USA Programs.
May 22, 2012 marked the one year anniversary since the deadly tornado that struck Joplin, MO, devastating much of the community and resulting in the death of 161 people. One year later, the damage of the tornado is still apparent. However, while many buildings tattered from the storm did not resume business and entire neighborhoods were blown away, a sense of resolve and perseverance remains strong.
I was able to attend part of the Joplin Unity Walk that weaved through the city following the path of the tornado. Nearly 5,000 people were in attendance. Everywhere I looked, people were clad in memorial t-shirts that commemorated the strength of their community in overcoming tragedy and starting anew. The walk contained three stops for groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies. The stops, according to the Joplin Tornado Anniversary Website, represent three perspectives of storm recovery: faith-based community, schools, and children and families affected by the storm.
The walk concluded in a ceremony that took place at Cunningham Park, across the street from the damaged St. John’s Regional Hospital. Hal Donaldson, founder of Convoy of Hope, opened the ceremony and spoke of the community’s resilience in the face of adversity. He said more than 67% of the homes impacted by the storm have either been rebuilt, repaired, or have building plans underway. In the park, 161 trees were planted for victims of the tornado and a plaque with their names was unveiled at the close of the ceremony.
The ceremony’s message was one of hope. New construction is visible throughout the city and could be seen along the walk. Neighborhoods are being rebuilt. The community is dedicated to supporting one another through the recovery. It was a truly moving experience and a testament to the strength of Joplin’s residents in overcoming tragedy.