By Josh Letner
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Nearly 800 students from 60 Missouri high schools teamed up with foresters from the Missouri Department of Conservation on Saturday to plant hundreds of trees in the tornado zone in Joplin.
The Rooting for Joplin campaign was the brainchild of Chris Fenske, a business instructor at Crowder College in Neosho. He organized a similar tree-planting program in Pierce City after that town was hit by a tornado in 2003.
Fenske said Rooting for Joplin benefits both the community and the young volunteers.
“We want the students to get to experience what happened in Joplin,” he said Saturday. “Today is not just about planting trees; it’s about establishing this sense of service leadership that students can take back to their communities.”
Rooting for Joplin was sponsored by the Missouri chapters of Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda. Fenske said individual high school chapters raised money to purchase trees. Several corporate sponsors also stepped forward.
Carla Boulton, state adviser for FBLA-PBL, said 150 schools raised a total of nearly $25,000 for the project, but because of financial constraints and scheduling conflicts, only 60 were able to send students to Joplin. Among them was Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia, where students raised $3,500.
Business teacher Amanda Mills said her students held a bake sale, performed timekeeping duties at a speech tournament and held a 50/50 drawing during a community college basketball game to raise money. The Sedalia Democrat newspaper helped get the word out about the efforts, and an anonymous donor matched what the students raised.
“Our original goal was $1,875, but when we passed that, our anonymous donor said he would go ahead and match whatever we raised,” Mills said.
Mills said she believes her students were motivated by the destruction they witnessed when a smaller tornado struck Sedalia just days after the EF-5 storm hit Joplin last May.
While Mills spoke, her students were busy planting 6-foot-tall trees in the yard of 90-year-old Cleo Wadkins. She watched the May 22 tornado pass just south of her home at 1728 S. Kansas Ave.
Wadkins said it was sad to see so many trees destroyed by the tornado, and she called Rooting for Joplin a “wonderful” project.
Kinsey Mahalovich, president of the FBLA chapter in Sedalia, said coming to Joplin was an eye-opening experience for many of the students.
“Everyone’s always going to remember this, and they’re always going to know that they got to help out in some way,” Mahalovich said.
A decade to die
Nate Forbes, a forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said many trees that are still standing will not survive the damage they suffered in the tornado. He said it can take a decade for a tree to die from storm damage, which makes a tree more susceptible to disease and insect infestation.