WWU helps Extreme Makeover in Joplin
|11/22/2011||Mary Ann Beahon|
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||(573) 592-1127|
By Leigh Rice ’14
During the holidays, students, faculty, staff and alumni of William Woods University are counting their blessings after traveling to Joplin to help rebuild the town that suffered from a devastating tornado last spring. Many joined Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in Joplin during October while others went with the WWU art club in November to conduct an art therapy session with residents.
On May 22, a three-quarter-mile-wide tornado, among the deadliest in the nation’s history, struck Joplin, Mo. It crushed nearly a third of the city and left 161 people dead and 7,000 homes destroyed. Labeled as the deadliest single tornado in more than half a century, the Joplin tornado caused the highest death toll from a single tornado in more than 50 years.
In August, ABC’s Emmy Award winning reality TV show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, announced the show’s plan to build “seven homes in seven days” in Joplin. It is one of the largest in the history of the television program that is now entering its ninth season. The episode featuring the Joplin rebuild will mark the show’s historic 200th episode.
An estimated 14,000 volunteers, including members of Alpha Phi sorority and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at WWU, helping the Extreme Makeover crew reconstruct homes for citizens in the Joplin community.
“Community service is a big part of both Pike and Phi’s chapter goals,” said Kathleen Carron of Alpha Phi. “When we learned we had the chance to reach out on a bigger scale, we were pumped.”
"The trip to Joplin was a true eye-opening experience for the men of Pi Kappa Alpha,” said William Wallace, chapter president. “It was unbelievable to see the damage and destruction caused by the tornado. It was a very great feeling to know that we were helping this community rebuild and regain their happiness."
Michael Brown, a Pike, said, “Just seeing what the town looked like after the tornado went through so many months ago was crazy. There is still a lot of work to be done to help rebuild the neighborhood we were in and to see all the people willing to go down to Joplin and help was awesome.”
Another Pike, Matthew Brumit, said, “It was amazing to see the vast damage the tornado had created and then see a sea of blue shirts working and helping rebuild that community. It’s one thing to throw money at a problem or cause, but when you go down and do the work yourself, the feeling of really helping increases tenfold.”
Knowing fraternity brothers and friends who lived in and around Joplin motivated Brumit to get involved, “I wanted to help a community that was near to my heart and needed my help.”
Brumit encourages others to get involved. “Everyone is more than appreciative of the smallest efforts. Find a way to help. Any little part that you can play in the larger picture of the situation is important.”
While in Joplin, some students worked in the park building a playground and a sitting area. Others helped with painting, sweeping, picking up trash, hanging wallpaper and landscaping.
“Most of our time was spent doing little jobs, but it's the little things that add up to the big things,” Tracia Jackson said. “What we did may seem insignificant to us, but the whole impact it will have on those seven lucky families will be indescribable.”
Jackson chose to make the trip down to Joplin for personal reasons.
“I have family that lived in Joplin that sadly lost almost everything when the tornado hit this summer. Fortunately, they are all alive and healthy. They may not be rebuilding their home in Joplin, but their neighbors are, and it makes me feel like I am making an impact on several different lives.”
Jackson added, “Going to Joplin was definitely an eye-opening experience. The devastation is unbelievable, but just when you think all hope and motivation for rebuilding is gone, you see seven amazing, beautiful houses being built.”
“We felt great just being able to help these people, but knowing that just the little things we got to do in the neighborhood made a huge impact on someone’s life was the most rewarding aspect of working in Joplin,” Carron said. “I don’t believe we will ever take anything for granted again. There were people who had everything taken from them without warning.”
Pikes Dakota Linsenbardt, Nate Lamberson and Julian Taylor helped raking rock and filling in holes where lines were placed. They also helped workers install a sprinkler system.
“The most exciting and rewarding experience in Joplin was to see the community slowly but surely return back to normality and to be able to witness these people’s lifestyles brought back due to the selflessness of volunteers from all over,” Linsenbardt said. “It was amazing to donate my time with a mindset of helping to improve a life.”
Alumni, too, did their part to assist in Joplin.
Shelly Vincent-Masek ’90 of Fulton, an interior designer who earned her degree from WWU, volunteered when she discovered Extreme Makeover would be in Joplin. She led a team of interior design students and professionals in efforts to help the Joplin community. Her 20-person crew turned 750 yards of fabric into custom curtains in three days for the homes devastated by the Joplin tornado.
Stephanie Hall ’07 and Laura Hill Steinbeck ’85, both of Fulton, and Vicki Martin Wren ’87 of Ashland, Mo., assisted Masek. Hall said, “It was overwhelming to be in the work environment where you’re building houses in the middle of tornado alley. It was kind of sad to see only so much left.”
Whitney Davis ’09, a teacher in Fulton, approached her mother, Dr. Linda Davis, professor of management information systems, with the idea of volunteering in Joplin.
“Ever since my kids lost their dad eight years ago to cancer, I have tried to find special bonding experiences that will create memories for a lifetime,” Linda Davis said. “Once we got there and saw the large posters with pictures of the families we would be helping it became even more invigorating.”
She added, “I hadn’t pulled an ‘all-nighter’ for 20 years, so I wasn’t sure this old body could take it, but, again, with momentum and energy fueled from helping a bigger purpose it became easier.”
From 8 p.m. Thursday until 2 a.m. Friday, the Davis mother and daughter team worked on various projects to help with Extreme Makeover and returned to Fulton the next day for a full day’s work.
“The most exciting part was during the last minutes of our shift when Whitney and I just walked up and down the street of the houses and watched the people working together with such purpose and energy. We said we would remember this moment forever and couldn’t wait to see the final show on TV where we will get to see the final houses and the families walking through their new houses,” Davis said.
“Joplin was amazing and sharing the experiences with my daughter made it extra special. Watching so many people from all over the nation come together in a unified effort was nothing short of a miracle.”
Working such long hours often requires huge amounts of caffeine, so Kelly Beahon Keller, MBA ’05, of Columbia, suggested that Starbucks help out during the Extreme Makeover. She and Starbucks employees from all over the state went to Joplin to work in shifts to provide coffee to all the workers and volunteers 24/7.
“The experience was overwhelming and unforgettable. The town and people of Joplin are amazing in their strength,” Keller said.
William Woods University has many alumni living in the Joplin area. Jill Flakne, M.Ed. ’03, and Kristen Trenary Stremel ’91 are two who have been directly involved in the recovery efforts.
Flakne is the principal of the Royal Heights Elementary School in Joplin.
“The initial response was to use our student information system to reach out to each and every family of the 7,500 students in the district. We worked for several days to account for 100 percent of the student population,” Flakne said.
During that time, surrounding communities and different areas of the nation began to send supplies to families in need.
“I took over the management of our donations and distribution center starting the Monday after the storm. Previous training as an AmeriCorps director gave me some notion of the organization that would be required in this disaster situation,” she said. “Within 36 hours we were a fully operational distribution center with a gymnasium serving as a warehouse.”
Stremel, who is a volunteer alumni coordinator for WWU in the Joplin area, has worked at St. John’s Regional Medical Center as a critical care nurse since 2007. St. John’s suffered a direct hit from the F5 tornado and five patients died as a result. The damages were so severe that people in the emergency room were sucked from the windows out into the parking lot.
The day the tornado struck, Stremel was in St. Louis. She quickly rushed home where she was lucky to find her house still standing.
“All of our patients were moved to a local hospital. I knew my job was to get there,” she said. “When I finally got there after driving through complete chaos, there were bus loads of people being brought in.”
Since Stremel was unable to work at the hospital in the aftermath of the tornado, she became an active volunteer, reaching out to those affected by the tornado, including WWU alumni in the area.
“Since I have two children, a lot of my efforts came from home. A lot has been on Facebook. I would find someone or they would find me and I would direct them to where they need to go to help.”
Stremel and Flakne both agree that what is being done in Joplin is a miracle.
“It’s silly, but every time someone shows up to help our community, it makes you cry,” Stremel said. “The Extreme Makeover is great. Every day something new happens. People keep stepping up more and more. There are people coming from other states that are staying in our church that get up every day to help rebuild Joplin.”
The WWU art club was one of the groups that went to Joplin to help out after Extreme Makeover. The students and faculty spent Nov. 12 with members of the Joplin community making art from recycled plastic bottles. After the art projects were finished, they took what they had designed to St. John’s Regional Medical Center.
Caroline Boyer-Ferhat, assistant professor of psychology at WWU, accompanied Terry Martin, professor of art, and the students. She believes in the power of art therapy, which she describes as “a research-based practice that has the potential to help individuals who are dealing with psychological issues express themselves.”
“It’s wonderful to have the support we do,” Flakne said, “and to know people are thinking about us, even months later.”
Members of Alpha Phi sorority and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at William Woods University help out during Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in Joplin.
WWU alum Shelly Vincent-Masek of Fulton with Ty Pennington, the show’s host.
Whitney Davis and her mother, Dr. Linda Davis, professor of management information systems at WWU.
Kelly Beahon Keller of Columbia sports her Starbucks hard hat.
Meghan Greenwalt and Jessica Bargate assemble art therapy projects.
Meghan Greenwalt and Jessica Bargate assemble art therapy projects.