By Kevin McClintock
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A weeklong trip to Joplin last year proved so life-changing for a group of teens that they have written a song and earmarked the proceeds to directly help Joplin's ongoing recovery from the 2011 tornado.
That song -- "Turn Us Into Miracles (Song for Joplin)" -- went live on March 8 and is now available for sale on all major digital download services, including iTunes, GooglePlay, Amazon MP3, Rhapsody, iHeartRadio and 25 others.
Allen Stare, First Presbyterian Youth Committee Chair for the group of teens from the Jacksonville, Ill.-based church that visited Joplin in August 2012, said he will soon know how much money the song has generated thus far for the nonprofit Rebuild Joplin organization.
Church groups such as Stare's collection of First Presbyterian Church youths continue to voluntarily rally behind the city's rebuilding efforts
"I'm still surprised at the distance some of the (groups) came from -- from California to New York," said Pastor John Myers, of Joplin Full Gospel, in a recent interview. "And some are still coming in. It's still going on right now. There's so many people who are still helping us out today."
In August of last year, a bus with 15 kids (high school-age sophomores, juniors and seniors) and four adults, including Stare, began a six-hour journey from Jacksonville, Ill. (population 20,000) to Joplin, 370 miles away.
The 19 Illinois residents spent a week in Joplin, arriving on Sunday, Aug. 4. They worked for hours each day, tirelessly. On a Monday, they watered trees -- 650 trees, in all that day. Later that week, they cleared lots, moving rocks and filling an enormous dumpster with debris from a demolition site. They even helped stack and box a half-acre of school books.
"We worked hard, but we also had a lot of fun," Stare said. "This was a great group of kids with a great sense of humor. They say that working for the Lord and for your neighbor can create a joyful heart. These guys truly embodied that attitude of thankful, happy service."
Countless times, Joplin residents would come up to Stare, the other adults -- but especially the always-cheerful kids -- and pat them on the back, shake their hands or even hug them.
"We hadn't been in (Joplin) for more than an hour before the first random citizen shook my hand and thanked us for being there," Stare wrote in what would later become a published book entitled "Making Miracles -- T he Story of the First Presbyterian Youth Group Joplin Song Project."
"That became a hallmark of the trip. Walking through the local Wal-mart while wearing our 'Presbyterian Disaster Assistance' T-shirts meant being stopped multiple times with questions like 'where are you from' and handshakes or hugs accompanied by 'thanks for helping out.'"
Inspired to sing
It was the hard work, the selfless sacrifice and the can-do spirit they saw from Joplin residents that ultimately inspired the group to pen a song about their Southwest Missouri experiences.
On the back of the group's T-shirts was a phrase: "Out of Chaos, Hope."
"The images of the devastation and rebuilding, the people we talked to, the work we did (in Joplin)" all were ingredients to the stew inside the pot. "It took a week of work in the hot sun to bring it all to a boil."
The song was written in just a few hours by a group of five: the church youth coordinator, Tim Chipman, and youth group members Maddy Albers, Anna Fergurson, Andi McCombs and Holden Jones. Nowhere in the song's lyrics are the words "Joplin" or "tornado" ever mentioned, though the song is undoubtedly about the city and the 2011 storm.
The group performed it in front of its church congregation the first Sunday it got back to Illinois. The song was again performed in October during the church's Youth Sunday service.
"I had this strong feeling," Stare said. "I didn't want this thing to fade away. I didn't want it to become, 'Oh, yeah, remember that song the kids wrote on that Joplin trip? What was the name of that again?'"
To preserve it, they decided to turn the song into a single and to use that single to raise money for Joplin's relief effort.
Aside from the five individual singers (each receiving their own verse), others from the church lent their voices to the harmonies. The first recording took place on Jan. 10, and a second session was recorded 10 days later.
They obtained the services of Stuart Smith, a former Nashville-based producer of contemporary Christian music, and blues guitarist Robert Sampson. In all, Stare put in more than 80 hours on the project.
"Worth every second," he said.
Their goal for the near future is a simple one, he said. Hopefully, he said, thousands upon thousands of people pay 99 cents to download the song. The group clears 64 cents for each song purchased and downloaded, and every penny goes directly to Rebuild Joplin.
"I want to raise $50,000 for Joplin from song proceeds by May 22, 2013," he said. "Habitat for Humanity could use that money to build a house. Think about that. Four kids, one afternoon of inspiration, and they could potentially have written a house. That would be so very cool."
Main vocalists on "Turn Us Into Miracles (Song for Joplin)" include Anna Fergurson, Holden Jones, Andi McCombs and Maddy Albers.
Additional chorus members include David Albers, Austin Davy, Melanie Davy, Adam Enz, Jordan Hester, Celeste Hill, Austin Hunter, Cameron Jones, Madison Jones, Marcy Jones, Hannah Mansell, Martha Maruna, Donna Stare, Jennie Stare and Alyssa Sutheard.
"In our somber times of darkness,
Where can we find your love?
When the sky breaks all around us,
We question you above"
"Left alone with no direction,
Lost hearts and broken homes
We've lost our best intentions,
Don't know which way to go"
"I'm done with devastation
Out of chaos rises hope
Miracles of human spirit
Inspire every soul"
The true power of faith
Comes when we are miracles."