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by
Wendy Spencer

By: Wendy SpencerEarlier this week I traveled to Joplin, Missouri, for a trip I will never forget. The Joplin story is one of a community that never gave up, that demonstrated steely resolve in the face of tragedy, and that is coming back stronger and better than before. It is also the story of volunteers – 130,000 strong and counting – whose selfless service has lifted up an entire community when it needed it most.For many residents, the one year anniversary was a painful reminder of the devastating EF-5 tornado that ripped through Joplin, killing 161 people, destroying 7,500 homes and buildings, and leaving a trail of destruction through the heart of the city.But even more so, the anniversary was a symbol of hope, pride, optimism, and unity. The people of Joplin did not let themselves be defined by what happened on May 22, 2011. Instead they defined themselves by what happened after - their extraordinary resilience and desire to rebuild.As President Obama told the graduating seniors at Joplin High School, “Here in Joplin, you’ve also learned that we have the power to grow from these experiences. We can define our own lives, not by what happens to us, but by how we respond. We can choose to carry on, to make a difference in the world.”REBUILDING STRONGER Driving through Joplin, the signs of progress are everywhere. Businesses are reopening, homes are being rebuilt, and neighborhoods are coming back. The Chamber of Commerce reports that more than 80 percent of businesses have reopened, and 25 brand new businesses have started. Throughout the tornado zone, contractors and volunteers are building new homes or repairing damaged ones.My first stop was at one of those homes. Jeanie and Warner George have lived on 32nd Street in West Joplin for 38 years. The tornado badly damaged their home, destroying the roof and garage and causing all the walls, floors, and surfaces to be covered in mold. Due to medical bills that have run their life savings to nothing, salvaging their home seemed impossible. Then, three months ago, a member of the AmeriCorps St. Louis recovery team called to check on the Georges to see if they needed any help.With the assistance of skilled volunteers and coordination by AmeriCorps, the house has been completely gutted, the damaged garage and roof have been removed, and in its place is all new subflooring, insulation, electric wiring, drywall, roof, windows, and garage with an added on first floor bedroom to accommodate Warner’s disability. Jeanie told me AmeriCorps members are doing more than rebuilding a home. “They have lifted our spirits. They saved us; they knew what to do when we didn’t know where to turn.“Jeanie’s gratitude is something I heard over and over in Joplin, and similar to what other disaster survivors have told me after hurricanes in my home state of Florida. Volunteers’ physical impact – whether removing debris, gutting a home, or rebuilding – is critical. But just as important is the emotional boost that comes when a group of strangers shows up at your door, showing compassion and kindness in the face of chaos. City Manager Mark Rohr has called this “the miracle of the human spirit.”POWER OF PARTNERSHIPSJoplin’s swift recovery isn’t about one group of volunteers, one nonprofit, or a single government agency. It’s about partnerships - thousands of people working together to achieve collective impact. On Tuesday morning, I spoke with 35 leaders of Joplin’s recovery – including representatives from FEMA, the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, Joplin city officials, and leaders of the faith-based and nonprofit groups that have been on the front lines of recovery.We talked about the progress of the recovery, lessons learned, and the road ahead. The sheer size and destructive power of the Joplin tornado required fast and creative action. More than one leader said they had to throw the playbook out. Fortunately, strong relationships already existed between relief Missouri organizations, and through training, experience, and coordination they knew what to do.One essential component of Joplin’s swift recovery has been the existence of a strong and well-managed infrastructure to handle the massive influx of volunteers who have come to help. Joplin officials are grateful that the AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team arrived just hours after the tornado and immediately set up a volunteer operation to ensure volunteers were trained, tracked, transported, and deployed safely.In the first year, AmeriCorps members have coordinated more than 75,000 volunteers who have given 520,000 hours of service and completed more than 2,200 homeowner requests. I visited the AmeriCorps Recovery Center, the home base of this effort, to see how it works. AmeriCorps members track homeowner needs, register and deploy volunteers, and meticulously record their hours and progress. In addition to ensuring volunteers are used effectively, this AmeriCorps-led operation was instrumental in saving the city of Joplin more than $17.7 million in disaster costs. As Karen Benson, director of disaster response for Convoy of Hope, told me, “AmeriCorps is the glue that held this together.”At the center, I also had the opportunity to speak with 40 AmeriCorps members serving in Joplin and the surrounding areas. I heard from Darla Armstrong, a retired Joplin school teacher who joined the Bright Futures AmeriCorps VISTA program after the tornado to coordinate donations to students so they can stay focused on their studies. Abby Simon signed up for a second year with AmeriCorps St. Louis in order to continue helping Joplin recover. Several members, including Quinn Gardner, told me how their experience in AmeriCorps has led them to go into the emergency management careers. Since the tornado, more than 350 AmeriCorps members have served in Joplin, including 240 AmeriCorps NCCC members, and AmeriCorps commitment to Joplin remains strong.A WALK OF UNITY My trip to Joplin concluded with the Walk of Unity, an extraordinary walk along the path of the tornado that attracted more than 6,000 people. The city organized the walk to emphasize the spirit of togetherness that has made Joplin’s recovery possible. Looking across the sea of people, I was inspired by their sense of determination, pride, and optimism for the future.After the speakers had finished, we gathered at a section of Cunningham Park that is a tribute to volunteers. Symbols of the volunteer response are cast in bronze – a sledgehammer, work gloves, an AmeriCorps hardhat, and a simple plaque. It reads:“The Miracle of the Human Spirit symbolizes the incredible outpouring of volunteers who have lifted Joplin out of the rubble. Countless volunteers from all walks of life have offered themselves to the Joplin effort without request, serving as a reminder of the overwhelming power of human generosity and the steadfast tenacity to rebuild the once broken city… Joplin and its residents are eternally grateful to those heroes.”Joplin is not finished rebuilding, and neither are the rest of us. As we continue to support Joplin, let us also thank Joplin, for being an example to the world of what is possible when people come together.Wendy Spencer is Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service. To learn more about the national service response in Joplin, read the press release, blog posts and fact sheet, watch the video, and view photos.

Keywords: AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps NCCC, Disaster, Joplin, Missouri
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?" Across the country, Americans will answer that question by making the January 18, 2010 King Holiday a national day of service. We here at the Corporation for National and Community Service are asking individuals in the tech community to think about how you can help serve others on the King holiday and throughout the year. What can technologists do to help others on the King Holiday? There is a spectrum of involvement - from organizing a large-scale hackathon, to utilizing the King Holiday to build a blog for charity - everyone fits in according to whatever you can give.
Now is a great time to start planning a King Holiday project and I thought I would share this email from our Acting CEO, Nicola Goren.
With his Michigan town in need of a cleaning and beautifying committee, a local resident took matters into his own hands.
Volunteers have the power to transform their community. As co-founder of Friends of the San Jose Rose Garden, I have witnessed how people of all ages and abilities can come together to make a difference, transform neglect into beauty, and inspire change in other communities. In less than two years, volunteers took a historic landmark park from probation to elation. This is our story.
Our project is the landscaping and on-going care of the grounds of the new Hospice House of St. Mary's County.
From January 9 in San Diego to June 12 in Sacramento, Melissa W. will join others to walk up the California coast and over to Sacramento to raise diabetes awareness and encourage healthy habits among middle school students.
The Beaches Veterans Association holds monthly cook-outs, rotating between organizations. All proceeds goes to the USO No Dough Dinners.
Feeling overwhelmed sometimes by the magnitude of the poverty, homelessness, and violence in this country and in our world, a volunteer learns to keep giving, keep loving, keep trying. “You never run out of capacity for these things,” she says.
My partners and I have started an off season youth football camp to better prepare the youth of our community in the fundamentals of the game and at the same time keep them occupied and off the streets.
This past September 12, Pepperdine University alumni, parents, and friends took part in service projects around campus, across the nation, and around the world as part of the 21st annual Step Forward Day.
In my hometown of Reno, Nevada, about 60 low income, older veterans live in a subsidized-housing complex. Most live alone and have no family living nearby to help. The majority of them have no cars or even telephones. An added complication is that several are physically or mentally disabled.
The College Assistance Migrant Program Alumni Association will launch the 2nd National Cesar E. Chavez Blood Drive Challenge in March 2010. This national service learning program promotes the engagement of U.S. Hispanic college health students as organizers in a national donor recruitment campaign. The students organize blood drive campaigns on their college/university campuses as part of this national competition.
I am currently serving my second AmeriCorps term with Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP) in Washington, DC. YSOP coordinates opportunities for youth to engage in meaningful service in Washington, DC and New York City.
In celebration of Global Youth Service Day 2009, high school students in El Paso planted tree seedlings behind three major non-profit organizations to provide a windbreak and safety screen for their outdoor areas.
The members of Western Fraternal Life Association Lodge #144 in Mosinee have made addressing community needs their top priority.
The folks are trained through the city's Community Emergency Response Team and are prepared for wind, snow, ice, power outages and earthquakes. Kloshe Illahee is a community of citizens ages 55 and up. Residents embarked on their neighborhood emergency plan in 2005. The plan was finalized in 2006. Now, the group is preparing a revision, with the goal of continuing self-sustainability in preparation for a disaster.
For 32 years, Chore Service has performed minor household repairs to help elderly and disabled remain safe in their homes. The driving force of Chore Service has been the dedicated, compassionate volunteers who perform the repairs. These are extraordinary people, willing to lend their time and considerable talents to help others.
I have taken the call of our President. I started an organization in my Community called ' Wheels for Education " . What we do is take students from the inner city of Philadelphia to College campuses.
Green Road Community Center in Raleigh has a brand new playground today thanks to a coordinated effort of 200 volunteers from Foresters™ and the community who erected the facility.
Students in Murtaugh, Idaho are building a community entrance to their town to attract highway passerby’s and highlight their town's natural beauty.
In Wimberley, $3 million dollars has been collected through monthly, volunteer-driven Market Days. Since the 1960's, that money has gone exclusively towards providing important resources to the town and its citizens.
I have been working with American WWII veterans since 1994, making many of them guests of honor where once they were in combat.
A student learns that "art can be an exceptionally powerful tool toward communications and healing when words and discussions fall short." The exhibit she organizes is about restoring a connection: between victims of domestic violence and a community through a visual narrative form -- ART.
During the first "Make a Delicious Difference Week," 10,000 Kraft Foods employees in more than 32 countries gave their time to help fight hunger, support healthy lifestyles, and build stronger communities around the world. It was the largest volunteer initiative ever in Kraft Foods’ history.
Gary van der Wege, a member of the 2004 U.S. Paralympic Fencing Team, visited with the youth at the Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio on September 11th. Gary shared with the club his inspiring story of how he became a paralympian.
Our team members grab a cup of coffee, some eggs and bacon, a tool, and a hardhat – and the day’s adventure begins.
The current economic downturn and challenges of raising a family in the 21st century has an impact on young boys.
College student in Binghamton rally around their community after an unimaginable tragedy.
Volunteering, Teamwork, Learning and Growing, Being Prepared- proactive choices that make a difference in our social security as a nation, community, family and individual.
Volunteers at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., have contributed more than 32,00 hours of service to the community. Celebrating 50 years of service, the hospital established the Sibley Heart Pillow Project this year to provide heart-shaped pillows to breast cancer patients for use after surgery.

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