By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
AmeriCorps St. Louis, which has been a key player in Joplin’s recovery from the May 2011 tornado, is preparing to hand over the reins.
Chad Angell, the team leader of AmeriCorps’ Joplin Recovery Project, said he has been working with the city of Joplin and with the Long-Term Recovery Committee, a collection of local relief agencies and faith-based groups, to transfer his team’s responsibilities to them. His seven-member team has been in Joplin on a grant that is set to end Dec. 21.
“We’re going to spend the next few weeks handing things over and helping out with the transition,” he said. “It’s a pretty fluid change. We’ve been working with these organizations for a year and a half. We’re confident in the community to continue our work here.”
Renee White, chairwoman of the Long-Term Recovery Committee, said she and city officials have been meeting with AmeriCorps monthly since August to figure out how to divide the responsibilities locally.
“Because of the great things AmeriCorps has done, it won’t be just one organization taking over,” she said. “We’ll have to parcel it out because they really have been the foot soldiers and the workhorses behind so much of the recovery.”
AmeriCorps staff members have assisted Joplin in nearly every way possible since the tornado. In the first few weeks, they created a volunteer reception center and a missing persons call center, and they transported volunteers into the field to help with debris removal and search and rescue efforts. More recently, they have helped people move from temporary housing into permanent housing, delivered donated items to families and assisted with minor repair jobs.
Behind the scenes, they coordinated volunteer efforts and tracked their hours. Sam Anselm, assistant city manager, said the city of Joplin anticipates taking over that trove of volunteer data. Future volunteer coordination efforts will likely go through Rebuild Joplin, he said.
“Words almost can’t describe what they’ve done for us,” Anselm said of AmeriCorps. “It’s just a good group of people. I can say with certainty that we wouldn’t be far along in the recovery without them.”
Angell, who was part of the first AmeriCorps team to arrive in Joplin within hours after the tornado struck, said it has been a positive experience to have worked with the rebuilding of the town.
“Sometimes in disaster, it’s really hard for people to accept others from outside the community,” he said. “It’s our job to respond, train the community and leave. Joplin embraced us and asked us to stay.”
Cameron Coe, who is originally from Washington state, has been in Joplin since Feb. 15. As Joplin’s volunteer intake coordinator for AmeriCorps St. Louis, he takes requests for aid from clients and coordinates volunteers with suitable work sites around town.
Coe acknowledged that he is homesick for the Seattle area, but he said his work in Joplin and the “emotional connection” he has with many residents here has reaffirmed his desire to work in public service.
“It’s been a lifelong goal of mine to perform some kind of service that was more than a ‘weekend warrior’ type of thing,” he said. “This experience has been educational, eye-opening and very positive.”
After the holidays, AmeriCorps St. Louis will assess whether the organization might be needed in Joplin for a longer period of time, Angell said. He said AmeriCorps will continue to have a presence in Missouri, as officials are looking at establishing a base in Southwest Missouri, possibly in Springfield, to assist in future disasters.