By Emily Younker and Scott Meeker
As he walked through the devastation left in the wake of the tornado, trying to lend a hand to people in need, the thought was there in the back of Charlie Brown’s mind.
“What if this was my mom? What if this was us? Who would be there for us?” he said, reflecting on the questions that motivated him to become involved with the long-term recovery effort.
After hearing word that members of the Westboro Baptist Church planned to picket the community memorial service planned for a week after the tornado, Brown created a Facebook page to organize a peaceful counter-protest.
“I’ve been counter-protesting them since 2007,” he said. “It took me just a second to say: ‘This isn’t going to happen here.’”
The event page grew to nearly 30,000 “likes,” and thousands of people turned out to shield any protesters from view and show their support for Joplin.
Through his Facebook page for the counter-protest, Brown was able to organize people to collect funds and take donations during the event.
Brown, 34, is the events manager for the Christman Events Center. A self-described “grassroots kind of guy,” his work on behalf of Joplin soon became like another full-time job.
In the months after the tornado, he led a social media push to help Joplin win several online contests, including $7,500 in McAlister’s Deli Tea Town USA contest (an amount then matched by the local franchisee) and a $25,000 prize in Coca-Cola’s America is Your Park competition, and helped to promote a toy drive.
Brown said that it was his social media presence that brought him to the attention of other groups, which requested his help.
He began working with Homes of Hope Joplin, which was created with the goal of building 20 houses. Support for the project hasn’t been as strong as hoped, but he said the group doesn’t intend to waver on that goal.
“We’re still here,” Brown said. “We got a house built and two foundations down. We’re not going to give up.”
Brown also became the volunteer project manager for Stars of Hope.
Founded in 2007 when a group from Texas took wooden stars to tornado survivors in Greensburg, Kan., the program spread to Joplin in the months after May 22, 2011. The goal of the program, he said, is to help heal and inspire.
Community paints were organized to paint stars with words and images of inspiration. In addition to creating a star in memory of each person lost to the tornado, the Joplin group was invited to paint stars in remembrance of each of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and a special community star was delivered to Minot, N.D., which experienced severe flooding in the summer of 2011.
While he said he felt compelled to get involved and stay involved in Joplin’s long-term recovery, he said even the smallest acts of volunteerism can bring about change.
“You don’t have to do something massive,” Brown said. “You don’t have to build a house. But you can take a warm meal to a senior citizen, or help somebody in need once a week. I think if everybody would take that extra step to make a difference, we would see a huge change in this world.”