Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Angels: Incredible, Comitted Volunteers

Joplin, Missouri: Before and After
[Click here and slide cursor across photograph]

Reflections One Year Later
by my friend, Mitzi Smith

It would take hours and hours to write about the tornado that hit us one year ago today and the events since. Still can't believe it's been a year. Can't tell you how many times I've heard people say things like..."What happened to Joplin was really bad, but people are sick of hearing about it!" or "Why has Joplin gotten so much media coverage when other cities have had similar destruction without near as much attention?"

A Shocking Day

I don't know how to respond to statements like these. I don't have the answers. I went to Texas after Katrina/Rita and it was bad. People have died in all of these catastrophic weather events. The only explanation I can come up with can be summed up in one word...Volunteers.

Joplin High School

I live here. I've been deeply affected by the storm and it's changed me forever, yet I didn't lose a single loved one or experience any property damage. Within minutes after the tornado passed through, we headed to St. John's hospital. That was my first glimpse of the power of the human spirit and the word "volunteer" took on a whole new definition for me. To me, "volunteer" is synonymous with "angel." I became a volunteer that night, and for days, weeks and months after. It began with our own citizens, frantically digging through rubble, guided by the screams for help, loading up the dying and injured into their own vehicles to get them to the only hospital still standing and functioning. Then came the police, firefighters, paramedics, medical professionals from surrounding towns. From there, it grew, like nothing I've ever seen in my life. They, the "angels," came from Kansas City, St. Louis, and other Missouri cities. They came from bordering states. They came by car, RV, airplane, every mode of transportation you can imagine. Some even hitchhiked, but they came. And they kept coming. We've had volunteers come from virtually every state in this country and beyond. Africa, South America, Europe, just to name a few. Some of the angels have never left. They are still working to rebuild homes and shattered lives. New angels arrive every day, a whole year after the storm.

I believe it is the massive influx of volunteers that has produced the attention that Joplin has received. How can that be a bad thing? For those of us who reside here, we will forever refer to time as "before the tornado" and "after the tornado". We won't get sick of hearing about it or talking about it, because we are still living with the effects. We see it every single time we drive our city's streets. It will FOREVER be there, in some way. But if it weren't for the angels, those incredible, wonderful, committed volunteers, we couldn't have gotten this far. No way. Thank you will never, ever be enough, but each of you has our undying gratitude.


  1. Update from Mitzi on 30 April 2014:

    Had to run some errands today. It's cold, rainy and just plain nasty here in the Ozarks. With recent weather related events that have taken place in towns such as Baxter Springs, KS, Quapaw, OK, Vilonia, AR, Tupelo, MS, and others, my mind goes back to that day nearly 3 years ago when one of the largest tornadoes on record hit Joplin. That city is still in the midst of rebuilding, but all around, there are reminders of what took place. Large trees, half dead, half trying to survive, some with debris still embedded in them, dot the landscape. There are still expanses of vacant land, but it's coming together. The days immediately following this tornado were cold, wet and nasty, just like today. All across the country today, in all kinds of weather, people have put their lives on hold to converge upon these ravaged towns, roll up their sleeves and start helping. They are wet, cold, dirty and weary, digging through rubble and witnessing the stark tragedy of people's lives. These people, these volunteers, these ANGELS, are living, breathing proof there is still good in humankind, still hope for humankind. I applaud you, I admire you and you are true, true heroes. Thank you, each and every one, whoever you are or wherever you may be.

  2. Update from Mitzi on 26 May 2015:

    Nana has to brag for a minute. There is a plot of land in Joplin's city limits that used to have homes on it before the tornado of 2011. It still has a lot of debris there. The land is going to be turned into a mini glade site. Anyhoo, some volunteers gathered there this evening to begin the process of picking up debris. I took granddaughter Carmen with me. We had buckets and trash bags to collect the debris in, which consisted largely of shingles, styrofoam, assorted small pieces of building material, etc. Carmen found a small child's toy, which caused all of that "tornado" sadness to come rushing back. There we were, picking up pieces of people's lives, pieces of their homes, just like we did 4 years ago. Carmen was the only child there and she worked so hard. A reporter and photographer from the local Joplin paper interviewed her and took her picture. I am so very proud of her.