On May 22, 2011 the town of Joplin, Missouri hit the national radar (literally!) when it experienced the devastating effects of a massive tornado that killed over 150 people and damaged or destroyed about 8,000 structures.
The tornado demolished six of Joplin’s public schools, leaving 54% of Joplin’s schoolchildren with no school to attend the following morning. Left in the wake of the destruction was a community whose resolve had only begun to be tested and who was left to figure out how to move forward with so little to build on.
Community Action in Joplin played a critical role in addressing this challenge. The local CAA, Economic Security Corporation of the Southwest Area (ESC) stepped up and united the community by immediately filling the needs of those affected by the tornado, providing housing, utility, and medical assistance. The CAA also helped Joplin get resources and national attention by assisting with an episode of the ABC television show, Extreme Makeover Home Edition. ESC secured the donations and leveraged resources to purchase real estate lots so that seven new homes could be built by the show.
In addition, ESC is busy with their own building projects, building 48 single-family homes and a 32-unit apartment complex and partnering with Habitat for Humanity to frame 10 homes in 10 days. These amazing outcomes are only part of the story though.
Prior to the tornado, ESC began the Bright Futures initiative, made possible with CSBG funds, to create a support structure for low-income Joplin children. This structure became the foundation of ESC’s tornado recovery efforts and supported their rapid response. Bright Futures coordinates businesses, faith-based organizations, and human service efforts in the community to create a flexible rapid response system that can meet any emergency need, whether large or small, from basic needs such as meals or clothing, to temporary shelter, transportation, and social services.
Bright Futures began with a goal of meeting the emergency needs of any child in Joplin facing a crisis within a 24-hour period. ESC coordinated 260 formal partners in the initiative by leveraging CSBG dollars. Within the first nine months of the program, Bright Futures benefited from over 2,100 volunteer hours and $400,000 in cash and in-kind donations. The program made a splash on social media through a Facebook page with 3,700 fans.
It was because of this existing, innovative program structure that Bright Futures was able to respond so quickly and efficiently to children and families affected by the tornado. With these efforts, the program exceeded its original goal and was able to meet the emergency needs of families and children within an hour.
Next, Bright Futures really put their program to the test and applied their winning formula for emergency assistance to help Joplin’s public school system find buildings in which to hold classes for the remainder of the 2010 school year, which was just weeks away from graduation. Through Bright Futures, ESC identified temporary structures that could hold students and renovated them in time for the school year to conclude as scheduled.
Thanks to ESC’s quick response, despite all of the devastation, the Joplin public school system reported a graduation rate of 82.1%, the highest in 15 years. This would not have been possible without the efforts of ESC, the Bright Futures program, and CSBG support. Bright futures surpassed its original goal and is now meeting Joplin children’s needs within the hour! Bright Futures not only provided structural assistance but also used their existing communications strategy to reach out to the community. In fact, they were so successful at communicating that they were able to assist FEMA in their communications efforts as well.
Using Bright Futures’ Facebook network and their Rebuild Joplin website, the program reached out to residents affected by the tornado as well as those who could help out. In fact, the system impressed FEMA so much, that they requested permission to replicate it nationally. The Joplin tornado was a serious blow to the community and the town is still recovering from the aftermath but thanks to the coordination and resources of an involved, effective, local Community Action Agency and flexible CSBG funding, the story ends on a positive note. The community turned from despair to hope and showed the nation what a community can do when it comes together against all odds to rebuild and prosper.
- U.S. Census Bureau, “American FactFinder,” 2007 American Community Survey (accessed May 2011). Data came from the following tables: Statewide poverty percentages, GCT1701, Ratio of income to poverty level, C17002
- U.S. Census Bureau, “American FactFinder,” 2009 American Community Survey (accessed May 2011). Data came from the following tables: Statewide poverty percentages, GCT1701, Ratio of income to poverty level, C17002
- Half in Ten analysis of Table 1, 2007 State Expenditure Report, National Association of State Budget Officers.
- Half in Ten analysis of Table 1, 2009 State Expenditure Report, National Association of State Budget Officers.
- College Board Trends in Pricing
- U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2007 through 2008.
- U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2009 through 2010.
- U.S. Census Bureau, “American FactFinder,” 2007 American Community Survey (accessed May 2011). Data came from the following tables: R2515
- U.S. Census Bureau, “American FactFinder,” 2009 American Community Survey (accessed May 2011). Data came from the following tables: R2515