The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

September 9, 2011

Stars of Hope brings community art project to Joplin

By Kelsey Ryan

JOPLIN, Mo. — For the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to honor those who died in the Joplin tornado, Joplin-area residents can paint more than 3,000 wooden stars that will be placed on street corners across the city in a community art project.

Stars of Hope is a project sponsored by New York Says Thank You, a nonprofit organization that began after 9/11 and is focused on helping other communities affected by disaster, natural or man-made.

The event started at 9 a.m. Friday and will continue from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today in a tent at the Flag of Freedom Plaza on the Oval at Missouri Southern State University. The event is open to the public. Plans call for St. Mary’s Elementary School students to paint about 300 stars.

“We want to empower children so they feel like they have a say after a disaster,” said Misty Samuels, event coordinator whose brother’s house was rebuilt by New York Says Thank You after it was destroyed by a tornado in Texas. She, too, is from Texas.

“Kids are always left out, and they don’t always know what’s going on,” Samuels said. “This is a way to make the kids feel like they have power changing their community.”

Samuels said the Joplin Stars of Hope project is the largest the organization has attempted, with a goal of more than 3,000 stars. Each star represents a victim of the Joplin tornado and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Some on Friday painted words of inspiration on their stars, while others made designs. Meghan Wilks-Stoddard, a sophomore at MSSU, stopped by the tent on Friday morning and used white and red paint on a blue star.

“I just want to show my appreciation, my love and support for everything that’s happened, not just in my city but in my country,” Wilks-Stoddard said. “It’s a little thing I can do.”

“Even if they don’t get to rebuild a house or put up signs or whatever, they can paint a star and feel like they’re doing something for the community,” Samuels said.

Volunteer Lisa Pritchard, of Ellijay, Ga., said her community was affected by a tornado in early April and that from what she’s seen of Joplin so far, it’s a beautiful community.

“It’s a larger city than I came from, but I do get a sense of community from the people that I’ve met,” Pritchard said. “I’m hoping this brings a sense of hope to people who have obviously gone through so much.”

Pritchard said volunteering with Stars of Hope has been one of the most spiritual experiences of her life.

“When we feel like there are other people out there and we’re not alone, it lifts our spirit,” she said.

Samuels said individual cities decide how long to display the stars before taking them down.

The Stars of Hope project began in Greensburg, Kan., in 2007. Other communities that have had Stars of Hope projects include Galveston, Texas; Little Sioux, Iowa; Fort Hood, Texas; Mena, Ark.; and Ellijay, Ga. The organization plans to visit Tuscaloosa, Ala., in the next few months.



All of the volunteers for the Joplin Stars of Hope project come from other cities that have suffered from disasters and in which New York Says Thank You projects have taken place.