By Emily Younker and Scott Meeker
Dorothy Maples always felt a calling to volunteer, whether it was participating in a fundraiser or giving a hand to help someone in need.
Large-scale disaster response wasn’t on her radar, however, until the need hit home in a very literal sense.
On May 22, 2011, Maples, 33, was returning home to Seattle from vacation when she got news that her home town had been hit by a tornado.
“I saw on Facebook that there were tornado warnings and that sirens were going off,” she said. “I called my dad and then the phone went dead. Within a couple of minutes, the Weather Channel started airing images from near (the former St. John’s Regional Medical Center).”
While she kept up to date with what was happening in Joplin via television reports, she said she wasn’t able to wrap her head around the magnitude of the disaster until she arrived in town two days later. She brought with her some supplies that had been gathered in Seattle, and worked to help friends and family recover items from their damaged homes.
Leaving Joplin behind wasn’t easy, she discovered.
“When I left, I didn’t feel whole,” she said. “I had this weird, sick feeling in my stomach. I asked to take a leave of absence from work and took a month off to come back. I volunteered through AmeriCorps St. Louis doing demos.”
After returning to Seattle at the end of that month, she still felt drawn to be back in Joplin. She left her job doing home loans for Bank of America and signed on for a year of service with AmeriCorps in her home town.
She said that AmeriCorps has a training program for its volunteers, but much of what she learned was through hands-on experience, working side by side with people who had been with the organization for a long time.
Not all of her time was spent in Joplin, however.
During that time, she and another volunteer were sent to Louisiana to help following Hurricane Isaac, which struck the Gulf Coast in late August 2012.
“Every disaster is different,” she said. “You couldn’t immediately tell the gravity of the damage. There, it was caused by water and wind and it required you to go inside the homes to see the damage that had been done. But my time in Joplin definitely gave me the knowledge and experience to assist down there with the rest of the team.”
When her two-year stint with AmeriCorps comes to an end, Maples said she plans on returning to Seattle. But she doesn’t intend to leave behind her calling to assist others.
“I’m not sure what it will mean yet, but I plan to continue in the disaster recovery field,” she said. “After coming back to Joplin and seeing all of the volunteers who came from everywhere, I felt a need to pay it forward.”