Ten-year-old Samantha Senger was excited and a little nervous as she waited at Minot International Airport Monday for the flight that would take her to Joplin, Mo., where she will accept a "Star of Hope" today on behalf of Minot's children.
The nervousness comes from not quite knowing what to expect during a ceremony in which tornado-stricken Joplin will "pay it forward" to flood-ravaged Minot. But Samantha has looked forward to going since she learned that she had been selected from her fourth-grade class at Longfellow Elementary.
"I was really excited that I get to go down there and see what they are going through, too," she said.
Samantha Senger, front, prepares to head to Joplin with (back, from left) Minot City Council president Dean Frantsvog, her mother, Amy Senger, and Longfellow Elementary Principal Tracey Lawson Monday at Minot International Airport.
Accompanying Samantha to Joplin are her mother, Amy Senger, Longfellow Elementary Principal Tracey Lawson and Dean Frantsvog, Minot City Council president.
Lawson said Samantha was a clear choice to represent their school.
"Samantha is a wonderful student, and this is a great opportunity for her," she said.
The Star of Hope that Samantha will accept from a Joplin fourth-grader will be the first of about 1,200 stars that will be coming to Minot through the New York Says Thank You Foundation. The foundation, a volunteer organization created after 9/11, assisted Joplin following its May 22, 2011, tornado, and through a grant project have provided wooden stars for every child impacted by the disaster. Children decorated the stars and placed them around the Joplin community. The stars coming to Minot represent the children affected by the flood.
Samantha's family moved back into their flood-affected home in February. She and her mother and younger sister had gone to stay with family in Dickinson after the flood, while her father remained in Minot with his work. The family later reunited, living in a hotel until a Federal Emergency Management unit became available in October.
When Samantha went back to school last fall, it was to a portable classroom that she called "nice" but not quite as nice as her regular school building.
Today, Joplin Schools will celebrate Operation Rising Eagle with ground-breakings to mark the rebuilding of its schools destroyed in the May 22, 2011, tornado. Half of the school district's buildings were damaged or destroyed, including the only high school. The schools lost seven students and one staff member.
Other "Day of Unity" events in Joplin remember the 161 people who lost their lives when an EF5 tornado cut a path of destruction through one-third of the city, destroying more than 8,000 homes and businesses. A Walk of Unity will take walkers through the disaster area and conclude at a park where a moment of silence will be held at 5:41 p.m., the time the twister touched down. The event also honors the 130,009 volunteers who had provided 810,476 hours of rebuilding as of the end of April.
Frantsvog said Minot is honored to be selected by Joplin in its decision to pay it forward to another disaster-affected community. Informal conversations between residents of the two communities started last year because of their shared experiences. Although the disasters were different, their recovery process holds some similarities, Frantsvog said.
"It's going to be interesting to see, from a city's perspective, how far they have come with their progress, where they are and what worked for them, what challenges they have faced and how they have overcome those challenges," he said. "We are facing a lot of the same challenges here in Minot."
The Minot representatives will return Wednesday.