By Ryan Richardson
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A giant vinyl banner adorned with heartfelt messages from Joplin tornado survivors to the residents of Moore, Okla., became a centerpiece of Wednesday’s observance of the two-year anniversary of the May 22, 2011, tornado.
Hundreds lined up in Cunningham Park to write personal messages on the 20-foot-long banner that simply stated “Miracle of the Human Spirit.” The banner was provided by the city of Joplin and will be sent later this week to Moore, as the city begins to rebuild in a way that has become familiar to Joplin residents.
Lenny Brubaker, with the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it was one of the many tasks city workers have taken on during the anniversary observance.
“It is Joplin’s mission to instill hope,” Brubaker said. “The crowds have come through steadily all afternoon because they feel a connection to the survivors. They want to tell them that they aren’t alone in the way that they are feeling now.”
As Gayle Carnes, of Joplin, took her turn signing the banner, she paused to read what others had written. Carnes said she signed the banner because she wanted to see the positive things she experienced in the aftermath of the Joplin tornado shine through to others.
“We can comfort them from an experience we know, and that is what we should do,” Carnes said. “I remember all of the positive words that came from all over the world, and I want them to feel the same way. This is what we should do.”
The banner-signing station was part of a circle of tents in the park that represented several of the organizations that have helped with Joplin’s recovery. Charities, city offices and art organizations shared information about where the city stands in the recovery effort.
Renee White, chairwoman of the Joplin Long Term Recovery Committee, said the anniversary had helped reconnect many of those who have worked together over the past two years.
“You start recognizing helpers or people that you have helped as they come through,” White said. “But then a day like this reminds you what everyone has gained in the face of so much loss. We’ve grown socially together, and we have gained strength as we have continued to rebuild.”
The committee serves as an umbrella for 90 organizations. Many of their efforts have consisted of volunteer coordination and finding ways to meet the needs of people who were left without homes.
For Art Feeds founder Meg Bourne-Hulsey, the anniversary event represented the positive impact that her organization has had in the emotional recovery of area youths.
“We wanted to repair the trauma that these kids experienced because they are Joplin’s future,” she said. “To see the state that they were in immediately after and to see them smile today, two years later, is worth everything we have done. Their happiness is beautiful.”
Tonya Sprenkle, vice president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, showed floor plans for the city’s new library and senior housing at the chamber’s tent. While these plans have been public for some time, this was the first time several residents had seen them up close. Sprenkle said it was important to remind the community of what is to come for the city.
“It can be a long way back after a disaster, and we want people to know where we are with these new projects,” Sprenkle said. “We want to get the message out that these new buildings will help anchor area businesses around them.”
Sprenkle said she hopes that what the Joplin chamber has learned during the rebuilding effort can be passed on to Moore.
“We want to give them the playbook so they can start back on the right foot,” she said. “We got that help two years ago, and we are ready to help them get back by letting them use our experience.”