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
I am not done serving yet but I have slowed down since I turned 80.
United We Serve to Save Energy & the Earth!! I organized a home energy efficiency event in Battle Creek, Michigan. The overarching goal was to reach out to the Battle Creek community to help lower their energy costs and decrease carbon pollution emissions.
Governor Timothy M. Kaine of Virginia participated in two United We Serve volunteer projects at the end of July including a park clean up and weatherization of a home.
Believe me, volunteering does wonders for a wounded soul because I received far more than I gave.
The Woodville Community Library is not only a place where citizens of Woodville, WI and the surrounding area can borrow books, audio books, and movies, but it is also a community hub of information and activity.
There is nothing like brightening a stranger’s day with a thank you, and a kind gesture.
On July 23rd, in support of United We Serve’s Community Renewal Week, Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ron Sims and Director of White House Office of Urban Affairs Adolfo Carrion teamed up with Teens 4 Good at the East Poplar Urban Farm to harvest potatoes for donation.
The Breakthrough Leaders Program's main focus is leadership and one way we did that was by volunteering at a near by care center.
One of the most beautiful places in the Deckers Creek watershed is the scenic gorge along route 7 in Morgantown, WV. Despite the beauty found here, the area is frequently used as a dumping ground for trash.
Zenniah had the challenge and support she needed to succeed when she was a young scholar at Higher Achievement in DC. After graduating from the program, Zenniah immediately returned as a volunteer to help other young people from her community get on that same path to success.
Disheartened by the state of the local cemetary and the lost memory of past neighbors, a Sumter, SC family takes matters into their own hands.
Whole Foods shoppers know that when they donated their unwanted cell phones at Secure the Call’s collection barrels in Ann Arbor and West Bloomfield, MI that not only were they ‘greening’ their community, but they were also helping to keep the Detroit area safe.
The mission of Always Ready Kids was inspired by my Aunt Betsy who is a 9/11 survivor. Aunt Betsy was pushing the revolving door of the Center when the first plane hit. She says that what helped her survive is that she “was prepared with basic items” in her purse like a flashlight and handkerchief. Aunt Betsy is proof that preparedness saves lives.
I get an overwhelming sense of satisfaction to be able to give something back to the hospital whose dedicated employees worked so hard to give my husband his life back. They gave me my life back too.
When I arrived at work the other day (I collect tolls and distribute information at a booth along a 20-mile stretch of road that cuts through the park), a memo sat by the cash register: To: All Department of Interior Employees From: Secretary Subject: United We Serve What a revelation. Just a short time ago, I sat in an audience hearing from the First Lady about the idea that this summer, service would become an activity of all Americans. Now, two months later, a memo from the DOI Secretary announces a “call to action for all employees to participate in United We Serve and commit to a volunteer service goal this summer.”
Z, a middle school student in a Summerbridge learning program, didn't stand out. Until he started doing Calculus...
As part of ARAMARK Building Community and United We Serve's Community Renewal Issue Week, Rodney, Domonique Foxworth of the Baltimore Ravens, and 150 other ARAMARK employees spent the day volunteering at the East Baltimore Development Inc (EBDI) Community Center -- a place of great importance to Rodney.
What does "active citizenship" mean for first- and second-generation Korean Americans? What's their role in addressing social problems in their own communities? This student wants to help LA-area youth figure that out.
Through our Community Emergency Response Team training, we came up with a disaster plan for our community. We have had many drills. We separate our community into six sections and send teams of two out to check approximately 50 homes per team.
By helping to care for others and feeding others, the love and compassion of the souls shines brightly. There is nothing more important in life than love for others.
My name is Robby Riess, Assistant Cubmaster of Pack 353 Brooklyn, NY & Brooklyn District Committee Camping Chairman. We set out to tackle the task of getting a few scouts for the much needed clean up of the shorelines of Floyd Bennett Field which impacts the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge area of Gateway National Parks.
In 2006, Kristin teamed up with four of her friends to start Birthday Wish. In the past two and a half years, they have helped over 80 families throw birthday parties for their children. The experience has strengthened her friendships and taught her that "young people can make a difference." She advises: "Don't think you can't get it done, don't think a task is too big and never give up."
When NEA teachers get together for their annual conference, they don't just go to meetings. This June, over 400 college students and retired teachers affiliated with the National Education Association pitched in to revitalize an elementary school in San Diego.
During these past few years, I have seen several major events consisting of structure fires, vehicle accidents, vehicle fires, search & rescues and wild fires. It is teamwork that has proven time after time, that we can perform a task that sometimes leaves you wondering why risks are taken.
A little help to get back on their feet.
I started interning with New Jersey Community Water Watch , which is a program ran by AmeriCorps and NJPIRG in a joint project. The program works by informing community members and students and encouraging them to be active stewards of their local water ways.
For three weeks, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has been collecting men's and women's business attire in an agency-wide effort to donate clothes to unemployed Americans seeking to re-join the workforce.
These Target team members are putting their skills to work for local kids to promote education and literacy. How could you use your own talents to support a community project?
Each spring since the restoration, the Bohemian Hall has a fund raising event called “Long Live the Squeeze Box”. Musicians donate a song or two for the event to help with restoration projects. This year we took it one step further.
The Sons of Norway answer the President's call to service.

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