By Emily Younker
Activity at the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Missouri is still running at a level higher than it was before the May 2011 tornado, executive director Rhonda Gorham said recently.
Tens of thousands of extra dollars, raised by a United Way organization in central Missouri, helped fill funding gaps so the organization could continue its programs, she said.
“Right after the tornado, we had taken on extra kids, extra hours; kids were staying longer days, more hours per day,” Gorham said. “We were feeding multiple meals a day, and that money helped us just be able to do all that. We were able to offer some scholarships to kids that wouldn’t have been able to come. It just helped cover all those costs.”
Officials say about $230,000 raised by Heart of Missouri United Way in Columbia is still available for the area’s long-term recovery needs. Dozens of local groups have already received the bulk of $1.73 million that was raised for Joplin organizations after the tornado.
The Boys & Girls Club received nearly $60,000 from Heart of Missouri in two payments in 2011 to assist with increased demand for its programs after the tornado, according to local United Way records. The organization currently serves 349 children and averages 300 each night during its after-school program — up from an enrollment of about 300 children and an average of 200 to 250 each night before the tornado, Gorham said.
Spiva Center for the Arts received a $5,000 grant for student scholarships and a $10,000 grant for its “Dear World, From Joplin With Love” exhibit last spring. The exhibit featured portraits of Joplin tornado survivors, first responders, city officials and residents by New Orleans photographer Robert X. Fogarty.
Jo Mueller, executive director at Spiva, said the exhibit would have been “not at all” possible without funding from the United Way.
“It was an important exhibit for Joplin to be able to experience, and for the people who participated, I think it was truly meaningful,” she said.
Spring River Christian Village received $2,340 last spring to buy 39 weather radios, which were distributed among nurses’ stations and independent residents, lifestyle coordinator Susan Warden said.
“It was very much appreciated,” she said. “Everybody feels better having a little more heads-up (of severe weather).”
The fundraising campaign was launched by Brent Beshore, a Joplin native and board member of the Columbia-based United Way. Beshore set up a Facebook page the night of the tornado to share information with about 35 friends in his Facebook network who had ties to Joplin.
By the next morning, nearly 50,000 people were on the page, with many looking for ways to help, he said. He met with Tim Rich, executive director of Heart of Missouri United Way, to see if the organization would formally take on the campaign.
“Without giving a second thought, my response was, ‘Sure,’” Rich said. “That’s what United Way does.”
By the end of that week, the organization had raised more than $1 million for Joplin tornado relief efforts, Rich said. Those funds — about $1.73 million by the end of the campaign — were disbursed through a local committee, he said.
“We didn’t think at all that we in Columbia should be deciding what to fund in Joplin,” Rich said.
In the year after the tornado, organizations receiving funds from the campaign also included AmeriCorps St. Louis, Crosslines, Joplin Area Habitat for Humanity, Ozark Center for Autism, the Community Health Clinic, the Salvation Army, Mercy Hospital, the Joplin Family Y, Joplin Family Worship Center and the city of Duquesne.
“It’s absolutely amazing, what’s happened,” Beshore said. “We had immediate resources to be able to get to people immediately with no strings attached.”
The board of the United Way of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas took control of the remaining $230,000 in available funds last month. Its members remain in close contact with the Columbia group as they decide how to allocate those funds for the region’s long-term needs, said Kate Massey, director of community impact for the local United Way.
“We’re not sure what the needs will be for the next two, three or 10 years, so we want to make sure we are good stewards of the money,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out what is the most appropriate for our community to fit underneath that umbrella of long-term recovery.”
Source of donations
ABOUT $450,000 of the $1.73 million raised for Joplin tornado relief by Heart of Missouri United Way in Columbia was given by Missouri residents, while the remaining amount was pledged from people across the country and around the world, according to Tim Rich, executive director.