By Brian Berkstresser
Special to The Globe
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Less than two years ago, I wrote an article for the Globe about Joplin schools’ brand-new Bright Futures initiative. I spoke about the mission — partnerships inspiring educational achievement and developing community success. I reviewed some of the successes we had already seen, the partnerships that were formed and the volunteers who stepped up. The advisory board members were excited and proud and ready for steady growth that we knew would have a great impact on our community.
What a difference one day can make. Just a few short months later, when the May 2011 tornado changed our community forever, the true impact of Bright Futures was immediately apparent. The relationships and partnerships we had developed over the preceding months became incredibly important. Walls between the schools and the business community had been broken down. Trust had been built between people who didn’t even know each other previously. So when our schools lay in ruins, and there was so much that had to be done immediately, Bright Futures volunteers could be immediately effective.
Because of Bright Futures, I was able to walk into the “command center” at North Middle School three days after the tornado and begin fielding phone calls. Because of Bright Futures, my friend Virginia Laas called me and said, “Peggy, how can I help the schools?” and we were able to find a place where she could quickly have an impact. Bright Futures was a key player in allowing Superintendent C.J. Huff and his leadership team to meet their goals of opening Joplin schools on time that August.
The year after the tornado was filled with projects and events that weren’t quite in our original plan but still stayed true to the mission. We worked hard to get donated supplies to children in need. We spent time building morale at the relocated schools and making sure partners were still engaged. We concentrated on meeting the immediate needs of our students so that children could come to school feeling safe and secure and ready to learn. As I stated in that first article, it’s hard to learn when you’re hungry.
Now, we are a few months into school year three of Bright Futures. We have 93 school partnerships and hundreds of volunteers. Bright Futures councils are in place at every school and are actively recruiting new members. Grass-roots efforts like Operation College Bound at Columbia and All Pro Dads, which began at Eastmorland, are beginning to change the culture of our community. Bright Futures USA has brought in 11 affiliate communities and has many more on its “interested” list. And just a few weeks ago, Dr. Huff, Kim Vann and I traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept a Together for Tomorrow Award, given to only 31 initiatives nationally that are recognized for their work in forming community partnerships to help schools and students. I was struck by the respect and attention that C.J. and Kim received at each of our meetings. It’s important for our community to know: People have not forgotten about Joplin, and national leaders are encouraged and impressed by our response to the challenges we face.
There are many ways for you to be involved in Bright Futures and make a difference in the schools. If I were to list them all here, it would take up the entire page. Please go to our website, brightfuturesjoplin.org, if you would like more information. And I’ll end this article just like I did the one two years ago. There’s room for everyone, and it’s all about the kids. Join us, and make our community a better place.
Peggy Fuller is co-chairwoman of Bright Futures Joplin and vice president of marketing for Southwest Missouri Bank.