Our first stop was in Joplin. In April of 2011, a huge tornado ripped through the city, completely destroying much of the town, and leaving the rest broken, but not beyond repair.
The FFA chapter president said during our tour of Joplin that before the tornado hit, people would walk through Wal-Mart without saying hi to anyone, buy their stuff and go. After the tornado that killed 166 people ravaged the town, however, Joplin became a community. They joined together in the face of a natural disaster, and worked to rebuild their city.
The residents whose homes were absolute rubble after the half-mile tornado struck without warning could have moved somewhere else, where they wouldn’t have to worry about tornadoes or constantly see the reminder that their old lives were gone, but most of them didn’t. They stayed and worked to build new homes, to build new lives. That says a lot about Joplin, and about the resiliency of American families.
Even the residents who weren’t hit by the tornado pitched in to help. The craziest thing about tornadoes is that one block can be just completely gone, and the next block over practically untouched. It’s hard to think that your house was that close to being totally fine. But those who kept their homes still came out to rebuild the businesses, and the homes of the families who were in the direct path. It was a community-wide rebuilding project, not an individual one.
I was prepared for some destruction, but it’s still totally different to see it firsthand as to see pictures. To see someone get emotional talking about the house they used to have. To see a naked, pathetic tree standing alone in the middle of what used to be a bustling metropolis. To see a giant hole where the high school used to be. But then to see someone’s brand new home. To see a beautiful park with lots of families playing there. To see new plants and landscaping that you planted in someone’s front yard. Those are the images I want to remember. That’s what I took back with me.