National Service CEO to Survey Progress, Meet Joplin Leaders, and Thank Volunteers

Joplin, Mo. – One year after a devastating tornado ripped through Joplin, Missouri, the city is making a strong recovery thanks to the resilience of the Joplin people, a united recovery effort, and an extraordinary outpouring of volunteers and AmeriCorps members who have made a powerful impact and remain hard at work today.

City leaders are preparing for tomorrow's anniversary with events to remember and mourn those who died, but also to demonstrate unity, progress, and gratitude for the more than 130,000 volunteers who have come from across the country over the past year -- what City Manager Mark Rohr has called the “miracle of the human spirit.”

Coordinating volunteers and ensuring their service is focused on impact has been a primary focus of the national service program AmeriCorps, whose members arrived within hours after the tornado and continue to play an indispensable role in Joplin's recovery.

“The tornado showed nature at its worst, but it brought out humanity at its best,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, AmeriCorps' parent agency. “The outpouring of volunteers has been extraordinary. Thanks to AmeriCorps leadership, tens of thousands of volunteers were able to provide assistance to survivors quickly and with an immediate impact, and we remain committed to Joplin's long-term recovery.”

Spencer will be in Joplin for the anniversary to meet with local officials, survey progress and lessons learned, thank volunteers, and join community events, including President Obama's Joplin High School commencement address tonight and the city's Walk of Unity tomorrow. For details on Spencer's schedule, click here.

AmeriCorps: An Indispensable Role

The first team of AmeriCorps members arrived within hours after the nation's deadliest tornado in nearly 60 years ripped through Joplin, killing 161 people and destroying some 7,500 homes and businesses.

Members of AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team were first on the scene, arriving at 2:30 a.m. They immediately went to work, setting up a missing persons' hotline and opening a volunteer center at Missouri Southern State University to handle the 3,000 volunteers who showed up the next day.

In the year since, more than 350 AmeriCorps members from across the nation have served in Joplin. They have removed tons of debris, provided homeowner assistance and casework, operated donation and distribution warehouses, coordinated donations, and managed a large-scale volunteer operation that has coordinated more than 75,000 volunteers to provide more than 520,000 hours of disaster assistance to more than 2,200 Joplin households. (See CNCS Fact Sheet on AmeriCorps Response to Joplin Tornado)

Joplin city officials reported to FEMA that the city received donated resources and volunteer hours totaling $17.7 million, the largest amount in Missouri's history and the largest amount ever recorded in FEMA's region VII. AmeriCorps members were instrumental in mobilizing this influx of volunteers and donations, which saved the city more than $17.7 million in disaster costs.

The Missouri House of Representatives passed a resolution citing AmeriCorps as “indispensable to the recovery,” and Joplin Assistant City Manager Sam Anselm said, “I don't know where we would be at this point in the recovery without AmeriCorps. They were absolutely instrumental.”

An Ongoing Commitment

AmeriCorps has an ongoing presence and long-term commitment to Joplin. One year after the tornado, more than 25 AmeriCorps members are still serving there, assisting with home-building and repair, offering legal services to low-income families, providing support to students in Joplin public schools, and managing volunteers, donations, and homeowner requests through the AmeriCorps Recovery Center led by AmeriCorps St. Louis.

Working in partnership with FEMA, the Missouri Community Service Commission, the City of Joplin, and nonprofit and faith-based organizations, AmeriCorps members will continue to provide vital services to support the long-term recovery effort.

“One year after the tornado, Joplin is coming back stronger, thanks to the resilience of Joplin's people and the volunteers who provided hope and help at a time of great need,” said Spencer. “To the volunteers, we say thank you for caring, for making a difference, for changing lives. We also say keep coming. Progress has been made, but the job's not done. Joplin needs more volunteers.”

Lessons Learned

Spencer also noted how lessons learned from Joplin have already been applied to other disasters. Last summer, shortly after returning to Texas from Joplin, the American YouthWorks Environmental Corps was pressed into action. Central Texas suffered the worst wildfires in its history over Labor Day weekend, with more than 1,700 structures damaged. The Environmental Corps AmeriCorps members used the same volunteer management infrastructure and systems they had just used in Joplin to help coordinate more than 4,000 volunteers.

The impact of AmeriCorps in Joplin also helped spur the development of FEMA Corps, an innovative partnership between FEMA and CNCS launched in March. FEMA Corps is a new 1,600 member unit of AmeriCorps' National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) whose members will be devoted solely to disaster response and recovery efforts. FEMA Corps will strengthen the nation's disaster response capabilities, expand opportunities for young people, and save taxpayer dollars.

For one Joplin resident, FEMA Corps will provide an opportunity to help others who are faced with the challenges of natural disasters. Mariah Hutchinson, 17, survived the tornado and began volunteering through her church shortly afterwards. When AmeriCorps members visited her school in March to talk about their experiences, Hutchinson immediately knew that AmeriCorps NCCC and FEMA Corps were right for her.

“I have always been the type of person who is selfless, and have always loved to help others,”said Hutchinson. “Being able to wake up every day knowing I have made a difference in someone else's life would be life changing for me.” Hutchinson will cross the stage tonight with 480 other graduating seniors at Joplin High Commencement.