MINOT, N.D. — Seventeen volunteers from Joplin arrived early Thursday in this northern prairie town to show support for the flood-ravaged community.
Students, faculty and staff members at Missouri Southern State University, as well as some local residents, left Wednesday night after a rally on the MSSU campus oval that included the university drum line and cheerleaders. Volunteers and supporters painted messages of hope on bus windows and draped the back of the bus with a banner stating, “Joplin says thank you.”
Each volunteer also carried a painted Star of Hope, and those and other wooden stars were presented to the community of Minot during a ceremony Thursday morning. The project, dubbed Joplin on Fire for Service, will include painting and placing the stars around the damaged area of Minot.
More than 11,000 Minot residents were evacuated, and more than 4,100 homes and hundreds of businesses were damaged by flooding along the Mouse River in June 2011.
Brooklyn Jusino, 7, and her mother, Sheila Immosote, who works for MSSU, were inside the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Range Line Road in Joplin when it was destroyed in the May 22, 2011, tornado. During a ceremony after the Walk of Unity event in May 2012, Brooklyn handed off her first Star of Hope to representatives of Minot as a promise that a Joplin group would make the trip to North Dakota in September.
Brooklyn, who was among those who made the bus trip, on Thursday said she was excited to meet the children of Minot and help them paint their stars.
“I can’t believe we went through the same thing almost,” she said. “It makes me feel good to be able to go help others.”
Rikki Smith, with MSSU’s Resource Development Center and one of the organizers of the trip, said the idea originated when the center became involved with the New York Says Thank You Foundation. That foundation brought a flag from New York’s Ground Zero to Joplin on Sept. 11, 2011, and invited the public to help put the final stitches in it. The foundation encouraged volunteers who placed 3,000 wooden stars painted with messages of hope around Joplin as part of the Stars of Hope project.
The volunteer turnout from those events earned a cash award from the Corporation for National and Community Service that helped fund the Minot trip.
“New York Says Thank You was contacted by Minot last year, and the folks there said they could use what they were doing down in Joplin and asked them to come,” Smith said. “So, we are partnering with New York Says Thank You to bring the Stars of Hope there. It is our way of paying it forward for Joplin.”
In Minot, Smith said she was looking forward to meeting the residents and talking to them about their experiences after the flood.
“To be able to go to Minot and hear their stories and to help them through the healing process even a year later is remarkable,” Smith said.
The group is expected to return to Joplin on Sunday.