US Flag AddThis Social Bookmark Button

 

Home United We Serve National Service
Mobile Menu Button
National Service Blog - Archive
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
The current economic downturn and challenges of raising a family in the 21st century has an impact on young boys.
I’ve done everything from coordinating search and rescue activities to cleaning up and carrying out the trash. After a transfer to Hugo, Colorado, my latest unique volunteer opportunity began.
A DC resident joins the President and First Lady by honoring the victims of September 11, 2001 through service.
The Lemon Lounge, a community project inspired by one little girl's dream to find the cure for childhood cancer, has raised nearly $1,500 for pediatric cancer research.
In 2005 I left a successful career in tv advertising to join the staff of A Child's Place of Charlotte, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit helping to erase the impact of homelessness on children and their education.
To honor the first annual 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, Rebuilding Together partnered with United We Serve to distribute 50,000 outreach bags filled with energy efficient savings information in 19 states.
For the first time ever, I felt I was doing something with a purpose and in turn it gave me a sense of worth and meaning. Up until then I had felt like I was a burden to people around me. Whereas at the event, I felt like I meant something to someone and was doing good for those around me. I then immersed myself in volunteer work.
In Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, local youth groups have stepped up to lead local community renewal efforts.
Today, girls face many obstacles. Girls in the Game empowers girls to overcome challenges. Game Day events introduce girls of all ages to different sports and fitness activities while teaching leadership, nutrition, and life-skills.
I am a mentor for the Y-FRIENDz Mentoring Children of Prisoners Program with YMCA Youth & Family Services in San Diego. For the past year and a half I have mentored a now 10-year-old girl who has both parents in and out of prison.
EPA's ENERGY STAR and Boys & Girls Club offer Dallas homeowner a youthful energy check-up.
The high cost of energy in rural Alaska prompted a VISTA member serving with the Rural Alaska Community Action Program to look into using the local hot springs as an energy source.
By tagging on to the President’s initiative and encouraging service this summer, we have engaged people in community service work to help make it a part of the everyday lives of all Americans with a hope that they will make an ongoing commitment to each other, their communities, and volunteer work throughout their lives
The adjustment from Brooklyn to Ajo, AZ was made easier when Maria embraced her responsibility to her community and herself.
This halloween International Hand Foundation a non profit charity focusing on education would like introduce "Treat for Good", a halloween program that has kids reaching out for more than candy but for a life lesson in compassion for a child across the world.
It started with one woman’s belief that helping kids learn to read would make a difference. A flight attendant flying for one of the major airline carriers on 9/11, LeeAnn Butler-Owens was prompted by the loss of friends and coworkers to examine her part in making the world a better place. By combining her interest in early childhood development with a love of music and the arts, Butler-Owens started by developing a children’s musical audio book.
Creating a New Path is a Learn and Serve America sub grantee at CASMAN Alternative Academy in Manistee, Michigan. Students at the school recognized a need for a better place to walk dogs instead of down a dirt road.
I have been battling some medical conditions. I use to be flat in bed for five and a half and now live with daily chronic pain. However, I have been sending all handwritten letters to the troops since Nov. 2000.
I became certified as a Guardian ad Litem in Marion County, Florida in April 2009. In case you are not familiar, guardians are volunteers that are appointed to cases where children have been removed from their homes by DCF due to abuse/safety conditions. It is our job to be the voice for the children in the courts and advocate for them.
Tay-bandz, an nonprofit organization founded by a young cancer patient, raises public awareness about childhood cancer and funds for research.
Twenty-five Foster Grandparent volunteers in Hamilton, Bradley and McMinn counties participated in an educational campaign to share basic character traits with students in their classrooms.
October has been a milestone in our Chapters history with the signing of a "COMMUNITY COVENANT" by our Chapters 1st Vice President, John Snyder, and the Commanders of American Legion Posts 129;316.233; VFW Post 3270; and FRA 290, along with the Mayors of Jacksonville Beach, Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach.
I volunteer at a community Food Bank which serves approximately 2,000 people a week's worth of groceries each month. The need for food has increased about 35% in our community.
Jobs and homes have been lost, but if Dr. Alan Singer can help it marriages will not be lost to this recession. Dr. Singer, a family therapist in central New Jersey, volunteers his services on the weekends for couples hard-hit by the recession.
Staff members from The Hitachi Foundation and Hitachi, Ltd. in Washington, DC spent the 9/11 Day of Service with Covenant House.
Crenshaw High School opened in 1968 in the historic Crenshaw District of South Los Angeles. Students here face more than the normal teenage dramas; they also deal with shifting cultural alliances and the threat of gang violence. 85% qualify for the Free/Reduced Lunch Program. Out of these difficult circumstances, the Crenshaw Eco Club has risen to become the largest and most ethnically diverse club on campus.
To most people, digging up dirt and spreading mulch may not sound like a good time. However, that’s exactly what over 30 volunteers of all ages at RAF Mildenhall UK Air Force Base did in early September when they came together to create a remembrance garden for armed services veterans.
This year during Ramadan, right before the start of the United We Serve Interfaith Week of Service, the Interfaith Committee at my church, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Arlington, Virginia, organized an iftar (dinner to break the Ramadan fast) for members of local Muslim communities. More than 60 Catholics and Muslims attended the dinner, a turnout far surpassing our expectations.
Shafia Clinic is a community-oriented alternative for people who cannot afford medical treatment. Operated by a volunteer team of physicians, nurses, and administrative staff, Shifa Clinic also receives generous donations from the community.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began my internship at the Department of Education this summer. I was aware of the great work that the department was doing to improve the quality of education throughout the country but I curious to see what my role would be in this greater mission.

Pages

Stay in Touch

Follow us on the following social networks, to ensure that you are always up to date!

Facebook Icon
Twitter Icon
YouTube Icon

 

 

CNCS Logo

Tell us how we're doing: serviceinitiative@cns.gov

National Service websites:

 

Back to Top