By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The Joplin Fire Department is one of seven recipients of this year’s Everyday Heroes awards, which are given annually by the American Red Cross in recognition of residents who have demonstrated courage and commitment within their community.
“I couldn’t pick out a firefighter that had done a significantly better job,” said Chief Mitch Randles, who nominated the entire department for the award. “It’s been a true team effort where everybody has risen to that level outside the expectation of a normal daily job.”
Members of the Fire Department have remained committed to their duties over the two years since the May 2011 tornado despite some setbacks, Randles said. Firefighters at two stations that were destroyed in the storm have been working in temporary sites (double-wide trailers) and storing their trucks in tents, he said.
Randles said firefighters also have spent hundreds of hours in disaster training and have spent many overtime hours to be on call during all of the major events that have happened since the tornado, including President Barack Obama’s two visits to Joplin and the Walk of Unity last spring.
“There’s just been one event after another and one opportunity after another that has risen, and the firefighters have really answered the needs of the community and kind of ignored their own needs and put the community first,” Randles said.
Today’s Everyday Heroes awards luncheon also will recognize:
• Terrie Dresh, a physical education teacher and volleyball and track coach at Joplin North Middle School.
Dresh also sponsors the Fellowship of Christian Students group, volunteers with Special Olympics and teaches Sunday school to young adults with special needs.
“Coach Dresh doesn’t make a big deal out of everything she does, but she should be proud of everything she does for others,” said the student who nominated Dresh. “She is a great role model for me, and I know that I’m proud to know her.”
• First Sgt. Richard Banks, a Joplin High School teacher in the JROTC program.
“I used to be the kid who didn’t care about anything, and I was going down the wrong path,” said the student who nominated Banks. “He teaches that we can change, and it’s never too late to be a better person. He helped me change my life around. He is my hero, and he is an everyday hero for many kids in Joplin High School.”
• Cooper Vocelka, a Joplin High School student.
After being diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, Vocelka recently organized a Christmas toy drive for Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, where he receives treatment himself. With help from his classmates, he raised about $1,700 in addition to gift donations.
Vocelka’s first fundraising efforts included playing his guitar around town and donating the tips he received toward gifts for hospital patients.
“Cooper’s story is one of inspiration, generosity and kindness,” said Clay Darrohn, of Voices Against Brain Cancer. “Despite his own diagnosis and his current focus on living life to the fullest, his desire to give back to young cancer patients is nothing short of admirable.”
• Cookie Estrada, executive director of the Joplin Family Y.
Estrada was nominated for his willingness to share his resources, connections and expertise with other social service agencies. He is credited with teaming up with people and businesses to help decrease employee turnover, increase employee satisfaction and provide opportunities to strengthen families.
Estrada also worked to ensure that residents living in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s temporary housing units after the tornado had access to community resources and a family playground on their campus.
• Aimee Danner, founder of Moving Mountains Inc.
Danner’s nonprofit organization provides children in the Diamond, Sarcoxie and East Newton school districts with the necessities — clothing, shoes, school supplies, weekend snack packs — that they need to get by in a school environment.
Danner said Moving Mountains put on a back-to-school night last fall in which eligible students received two new outfits and new shoes and got free haircuts. She also has conducted a winter coat drive, and has donated prom dresses and tuxedo rentals to high school students.
• Abi Almandinger, a leader with Creative Memories.
After the tornado, Almandinger worked to salvage and repair photographs that had been found in the debris. She also made them accessible to the public and returned all that could be matched to their original families.
THIS YEAR’S EVERYDAY HEROES AWARDS will be presented during a luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at the Holiday Inn of Joplin. Proceeds will benefit the American Red Cross.