Youth group makes return visit to Joplin to continue in clean up

Friday, August 3, 2012
Alex and Tyler Larson dig right in to help in clean up at Joplin. /Contributed

Last summer, a group of Alta youth saw for themselves the devastation created by the Joplin, Mo, tornadoes and pitched in where they could to help in clean up and to listen to the stories the survivors had to share. This summer many from that same group returned to the same area to see what a difference a year makes.

With still much work to be done to bring the city back to its pre-tornado state, the youth again offered their services to help. Those stories heard last year remain fresh in the minds of those devastated and continually sharing them serves as therapy for them. They count their blessing they lost only things and not loved ones.

Youth taking part were Nathan and Jason Flaherty, Tyler and Alex Larson and Matthew and Laura Holmes. United Methodist Church pastor Jess Rockhold-Gaul, Shelley Flaherty and Kevin Pingel also went on the trip. The group met up with RiseMinistries out of Sheldon and were among a group of some 50 high school youth and chaperones from a number of churches in Iowa. Of the Alta group, all but Alex had participated last year.

"You can still tell that tornadoes went through the area," said Shelley, pointing out, however, that major debris is gone and businesses have been rebuilt. Damaged trees still remain and construction is everywhere.

"This trip was not as emotionally-draining as last time," Shelley said, pointing out last year's trip was only three months after the tornadoes had struck.

In talking with many of the same residents they did last year, the Iowa group was told that as devastating as the tornadoes were, they have looked for the good and found blessings in everything around them - and that is seeing that Joplin is revitalized. There is a great deal of new and that is good to see as the residents didn't give up on their city but wanted to remain.

The Iowa youth and adults worked in teams and completed tasks that were assigned to them - from painting to moving debris to helping in construction projects.

Shelley can't say enough good things about the youth, who worked in temperatures of over 100 degrees and were "troopers" everyday. She added that the Alta kids mixed themselves up and worked well with other youth, making it an even greater experience, meeting up with some of the same youth they met last summer.

"So many times people think that kids are lazy and not interested in things like this. I don't think I heard any teenager complaining; they worked their butts off but had fun."

The RiseMinistries group stayed at the New Creation Church while in Joplin.

They were happy to see the area where the television show "Extreme Home Makeover" put up seven homes in seven days and were also pleased to see other groups in the city helping, as well.

There is much appreciation form the residents of Joplin, Shelley said, of having "visitors" come to their city to help. There were many "thank yous" shared vocally as well as through signs.

"We are blessed and it gives us a good feeling to know we are there to bless other people," she said. "It's got to be very humbling to accept the help."

She added that one of the persons involved in the tornado that they talked with last year and again this year said he has learned, "If you see someone in need and you don't help, shame on you."

Taking care of everyone around you should be the goal.

The Iowa also hosted a block party, again showing the people of Joplin how much they are cared about. The event included food, fun, music and friendship.

It was difficult for the kids to leave, Shelley said, leaving the friends that they had made and truly leaving Joplin, knowing that there was still so much work to be done.

"We are proud of the Alta kids and what they did. We hope they know that they made a difference in someone else's life. Trips like this make a huge impact on them."

There is already talk f making a third visit to Joplin, perhaps getting more adults from the community involved.