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The Oklahoma Standard: Neighbor Helping Neighbor

by Sandy Scott

In the aftermath of the devastating tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma, last week, we have witnessed remarkable courage and compassion.

From the first responders who pulled survivors from the rubble, to the teachers who shielded their students, to the residents who sheltered their neighbors, Oklahomans have displayed extraordinary strength and resilience.

Governor Mary Fallin has called it the “Oklahoma Standard” – the spirit of neighbor helping neighbor that shined after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and remains strong today.

We have also seen something present after every crisis: the generous, hopeful spirit of Americans coming from every corner of the country to help.

Trained staff and volunteers from faith-based groups, the American Red Cross, and other voluntary organizations rushed in to provide shelter, food, and relief. Working in coordination with these groups, FEMA, and state and local authorities, the Corporation for National and Community Service immediately deployed AmeriCorps teams to assist.

The first team on the scene, AmeriCorps St. Louis, is a veteran of many disasters, having led volunteer efforts after numerous hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes over the past 19 years. They arrived in Moore last Tuesday, exactly two years after a similar tornado cut a devastating path through the town of Joplin.

One essential component of Joplin’s swift recovery was the existence of a strong and well-managed infrastructure to handle the massive influx of volunteers who came to help. AmeriCorps led this large-scale operation to ensure volunteers were trained, tracked, and deployed safely.

On the one-year anniversary of the Joplin tornado, we talked to community leaders and local officials about AmeriCorps’ role in the recovery. Here is what they said:

In the first year after the tornado, 350 AmeriCorps members coordinated more than 75,000 volunteers to assist more than 2,200 Joplin households. AmeriCorps is still active in Joplin today, helping homeowners rebuild and repair their homes.

Will Burks, who is leading the AmeriCorps St. Louis team in Moore, was also part of the first AmeriCorps team to arrive in Joplin. He has seen the remarkable progress of the town since then, telling the St. Louis Dispatch, “The amount of recovery that can take place, if the community wants it, is amazing.”

Oklahomans, strong in character and determined to rebuild, will come back stronger. As they do, national service will be at their side.

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