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Lost and Found in Joplin: A Reunion Tail

by Samantha Jo Warfield

Pulling up to the home of Joplin resident Linda Smith, Kari Shields, an AmeriCorps NCCC member with the Southern region, was overcome with emotion. Shield’s team had already visited homes affected by the tornado that day, but they had only needed minor support such as tarps installed on roofs.

Smith’s home, however, was destroyed.

As frequent first-responders to disaster sites, AmeriCorps and National Service members have learned that something as simple as listening to someone tell their story can have an enormous impact.

And so the AmeriCorps team listened as a teary-eyed Ms. Smith shared her story. Smith spoke of the enormous old oak trees, which once shaded her land, now strewn across her yard. She cried as she spoke of her pets and other animals like squirrels and ducks that had succumbed to Mother Nature’s fury. She spoke of Chance, the black lab-mix who rode out the storm with her at home, and of the Pomeranian puppy she had just received as a birthday gift. She found the puppy in her yard after the storm – he didn’t survive.

Then, she talked about her dear little beagle that was swept away by the strong winds. She wept, as she pleaded to just have him home, even if that meant she had to bury him. She hoped that someone was taking care of him – wherever he may be – and that he wasn’t frightened.

Clearly a woman of strong faith, Ms. Smith’s story was one of optimism. She took the AmeriCorps members on a tour of what was left of her home – taking care to point out where her treasured crosses and religious figurines remained among the twisted and cracked walls. She felt blessed to have survived.

A Small Miracle

Ms. Smith’s story weighed heavily on the AmeriCorps team’s hearts, especially knowing that the damage was too extensive for them to be much help.

Later that day, they were about a quarter mile down the road assessing the damage of another home where nothing was left but the floor.

The team was preparing to leave the home when something caught member Ashley Denn’s eye under the rubble. Alerting the team, she shouted “I think I see a dog in there.”

Kari Shields, remembering Ms. Smith’s story, quickly ran to the pile and dropped to her knees. She called to him, and the beagle wiggled his way out and right into Kari’s arms. He had a wound on his head, but he was clearly happy to be found. Not only had they found the beagle, they had found him alive.

The team loaded the little dog into the van and took him back to Ms. Smith who was so happy to have her “little beagle” back. The house where he was found, “Memaw’s house,” is where he would go each morning to eat leftover biscuits. “He must’ve stopped at the first place he knew -- but he was probably so scared and confused thinking ‘where is Memaw’s house?’,” said Smith.

This post adapted from a field reflection by Kari Shields, AmeriCorps NCCC Corps Member, 17th Class, Southern Region.

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