The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 4, 2014

Stapleton students bring money, message of hope to counterparts in Moore

MOORE, Okla. — Although rainfall will inevitably wash away a sidewalk drawing of two conjoining hearts, a message written within will never fade: “Joplin and Moore strong.”

Cheyanne Phillips, a fifth-grader at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, put finishing touches on the hearts Friday, just moments before 14 Joplin students from Stapleton Elementary School arrived.

Since August, the Joplin students — all members of SOAR (Serving Others as Role Models) — collected more than $3,000 and about 600 books to donate to Plaza Towers, which was destroyed on May 20, 2013, during an EF-5 tornado that killed 25 people. The tornado occurred nearly two years to the day after an EF-5 hit Joplin, causing more than 160 deaths and destroying and damaging thousands of homes and buildings, including many Joplin schools.

Seven of those killed in Moore were third-graders at the school. About 300 students from that elementary school are now attending Central Junior High School in Moore while a new building is constructed.  

During the visit, Joplin and Moore students played games together, ate lunch together and shared stories.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Cheyanne said, “because we can talk. It feels like they would understand us.”

Each Stapleton student also wrote letters that were delivered to Moore students Friday afternoon.  

“Basically, we just kind of wrote about ourselves and asked a couple questions,” said Stapleton student Lindsey Marlay, adding she hopes they’ll continue to be pen-pals.

Lindsey said meeting and interacting with the Moore students was her favorite part of the trip.

“They went through the exact same as us,” she said. “We know everything’s going to turn out perfectly fine because we’re there for them, and we know kind of what they’re going through and how they feel.”

Joplin Superintendent C.J. Huff, who joined the Stapleton students for the trip, said they came to him with their proposal.

“They went through this plan that they have to give back to the students of Moore, Okla., specifically Plaza Towers Elementary School,” he said. “And they had gone so far as to develop a budget based on costs associated with the travel, including all the tolls, meals and mileage. They had a game plan on how they were going to go about the process of collecting books and donations. Then asked for my permission to go down to Moore. And how could you say ‘no’ to that?”

Huff said it was touching to hear the passion in the students’ voices.

“These students really have a giving heart, and they wanted to do something for these kids,” Huff said. “Obviously, our kids have a connection to any community that has been through the experience we’ve had. And I think this is both an opportunity for them to pay it forward as well as and an opportunity, I think, too, for healing for these kids, to feel like they’re doing something to make a difference.”

Moore Superintendent Robert Romines said that a few days after the Moore tornado, Huff and his staff were on site with the Moore school district.

“They were here to offer assistance,” he said. “They weren’t invited. They weren’t asked. They just came.”

Romines said a relationship has formed between the two school districts.

“We don’t consider Joplin Public Schools friends,” he said. “We consider them family.”

Lindsey Marlay’s mother, Tami, drove to Moore with other parents, each of whom wore “Rebuild Moore” T-shirts.

“I’ve lived in Joplin my whole life,” Tami said. “And we received so much when the tornado happened. Our goal as a parent is to plant those seeds — giving to others and serving others.”

Tami said those actions start at home and within a community.

“As a parent, this is something I wanted my daughter to experience,” she said. “What she learns today will affect the rest of her life.”


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