What began as competition has turned into friendship and joint healing for tornado-stricken Joplin, Mo., and flood-damaged Minot.
Seventeen Joplin residents traveled by bus to Minot Thursday to assist the New York Says Thank You Foundation in bringing Stars of HOPE to this area.
When Mary Barker with Recovery Warehouse asked the foundation to bring Stars of HOPE to Minot, Joplin saw an opportunity to strengthen a bond with Minot that began forming not long after Minot's June flood.
Jill Schramm/MDN • Brooklyn Justino, 7, sits amongst newly painted stars at the Stars of Hope event at Minot State University Thursday. Brooklyn represented Joplin in passing a star to Longfellow student Samantha Senger at a Joplin observance on the one-year anniversary of the city’s tornado disaster.
Minot's Oak Park and Joplin's Cunningham Park were competing with other parks in the nation in an Internet contest for a $100,000 grant from Coca-Cola. Before Minot won the contest, a Joplin columnist, unfamiliar with Minot's flood, questioned the city's need for the grant. He later apologized, but the Joplin community also reached out to Minot to make amends. What looked like a bad thing turned out to be a good thing in that it opened the door to a friendship between two communities facing disaster recovery challenges.
"It gave us the opportunity to know each other and reach out to each other and say, yeah, let's go beyond just this faceless community. Let's get to know each other," said Joplin resident Sandra Lovett.
Minot and Joplin have shared fundraising ideas and helped each other win Internet voting contests to generate money for flood recovery projects, said Charlie Brown of Joplin.
"We share pictures. We talk about the recovery efforts," he said.
A private Facebook site gives representatives of the two cities, and also other communities that have experienced disasters, a chance to come together and share.
When Joplin observed the one-year anniversary of its tornado last May, residents there invited Minot representatives to join them on a Unity Walk and ceremony in Cunningham Park. At the ceremony, Joplin's 7-year-old Brooklyn Justino passed a Star of HOPE to 10-year-old Samantha Senger of Minot as a promise that a Joplin delegation would be in Minot this month to paint more stars.
The Stars of HOPE events at Minot State University on Thursday and Longfellow School and Oak Park on Friday were reminiscent of Joplin's events at Missouri Southern State University, a Catholic school and Cunningham Park.
Joplin took its star painting beyond the schools into the community to accomplish the planting of 3,187 Stars of HOPE-one for each of the approximate 3,000 persons killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and one for each of Joplin's 187 tornado victims.
"It's huge," Lovett of the impact that Stars of HOPE has on communities recovering from disaster. A move by the City of Joplin to eventually remove some of the stars caused the phone to ring off the hook. So now many of those stars remain and continue to appreciated by the residents, Lovett said.
Thanks to volunteer help from the New York Says Thank You Foundation, Joplin won $100,000 through the federal Corporation for National and Community Service for recruiting the most volunteers to its September event. In return, Joplin residents offered to assist the foundation with its future events.
Joplin's wish for Minot is that the community would join with them in paying it forward to other areas affected by disasters, Lovett said. She looks forward to the opportunity to reunite with Minot friends at future Stars of HOPE events.
"There will be a bond there forever," she said.
Barker said she can't express Minot's response to Joplin any better than it was said during a Minot radio broadcast this past week.
"They said, 'Thank you for reminding us that there's hope,'" Barker said.
Jessica Armstrong, an organizer of the Oakaholics, said what is most important about Stars of HOPE is that the children and residents of Minot walk away knowing there are people even complete strangers who care. Words can't express what it is like to have an outpouring of support from people who understand the rebuilding process, she said.
"The community of Joplin has been a huge resource to Minot. The connections, friendships and bonds that have been formed from so far away has been a perfect example of the true meaning of 'paying it forward,'" Armstrong said. "I hope the children in Minot develop a deeper understanding of the true meaning of giving. I hope the children understand that these simple acts of compassion can be shown in every day life."
While in Minot, the Joplin delegation got a look at the flood zone to see how recovery is coming.
"I would never think that a flood recovery would be more challenging than tornado recovery, and it is," Brown said. "I just feel like we need to do everything we can to help. ... Being here this week and bringing light to the situation is going to help."
As for Joplin, the city is well on the way in its own recovery.
"We are doing very well. We have been very blessed," Lovett said. "We know how blessed we have been, and we would like to, hopefully, be able to share some of that with Minot."