Remembering 9-11 at Joplin's Ground Zero

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On May 22, 2011, Joplin, Missouri, was struck by one of the worst tornado disasters in our nation’s history. Parallels between this natural disaster and the tragedies of September 11, 2001, started coming to life within minutes of touchdown.  From the heroism of rescuers carrying limp victims from the rubble, to the cries of agony of those who mourn, to indelible images of twisted metal rising from the destruction-- the tragedies are forever intertwined.  Like no other time in our lives, the residents of Joplin, Missouri, share a tremendous spirit of compassion, sense of unity, and immense gratitude for those who serve.

On September 11, 2011, the citizens of Joplin and our region will gather to honor the heroes who serve our nation and to remember those who gave their lives ten years ago.  We will gather to remember the victims of our tornado and to serve in honor of the many thousands of volunteers who descended on our broken city to help us recover.

Within minutes after the May 22 tornado, the City of Joplin and Missouri Southern State University acted together to bring security and comfort to our citizens.  The City of Joplin swiftly answered the call to action to guide and direct our citizens in response to the disaster.  Playing a pivotal role in the City’s Emergency Management Plan,  MSSU served as home-base for the Red Cross Shelter, the new 21st Century Health Sciences Building served as a medical facility, several federal and state agencies opened offices on campus, and the dorms housed first responders.  Continuing this partnership, the City and MSSU will collaborate to provide the region with a much needed healing experience during the 2011 National Day of Service and Remembrance.

For the tenth anniversary of 9-11, we’ll bring the region together for several events.  Serv-A-Thon, an innovative campaign aimed at awareness and fundraising for continued support of service in our city, will culminate on 9-11.  Our plans for the National Day of Service and Remembrance include two ceremonies which will book-end a Day of Service.  A huge concert, with big-name entertainers, is planned for the evening.

In the weeks prior to September 11, the Resource Development Center at Missouri Southern will promote Serv-A-Thon. The concept is easy… gather a team of 10 people, each person collects 10 pledges of $10 in support of the individual’s service during the week of 9-11.  The Resource Development Center, through mini-grants, will support MSSU students, faculty and staff in service learning projects throughout the community.   This new tradition will help us serve the community far into the future by funding non-profit projects which address the issues of rebuilding, need for after school programs, and other concerns identified by the community.  At the same time, the projects will enhance the education of University students through a greater sense of academic engagement and civic duty.

On the first anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, Missouri Southern State University dedicated a flag pole as a constant reminder of our nation’s incredible spirit.  On the tenth anniversary, this site will host a remembrance ceremony where we will rededicate ourselves to service in memory of those we’ve lost and in honor of those who serve. 

For the tenth anniversary of September 11, the New York Says Thank You Foundation is bringing the National 9-11 Flag to Cunningham Park, a landmark now known as Joplin’s Ground Zero. Since 2007, heroes from every walk of life have helped repair “our generation’s Star Spangled Banner” that was destroyed in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks.  We’re honored that Joplin’s festivities will include stitching of the National 9-11 Flag on the tenth anniversary.  This experience will truly “Restore, Empower, and Inspire” the people of Joplin.

We expect that The Day of Service and Remembrance will include over 5,000 volunteers from across our community.  AmeriCorps has been on the ground since just hours after the tornado hit.  We plan to coordinate with them to find appropriate projects and use their tracking systems to provide valid results on the number of people in service.

Traditional and Social Media outlets will be used to get the word out to the general public about the Day of Service and Remembrance activities.  Bright Futures, a wildly successful grassroots organization that supports Joplin schools, will help us reach the children in the district.  Both Girl Scout and Boy Scout Troops will be invited to serve.  We plan to work with the Joplin Area Ministerial Alliance to invite the faith-based community to participate.  Zimmer Radio Group, a constant source of comfort for our region in the days and weeks after the storm, will be a strong partner in building community awareness.  Local businesses, through our relationship with the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, will be encouraged to change their marquee signs to promote the Day of Service and Remembrance.  Serv-A-Thon participants will help spread the message by word-of-mouth.

As our nation began to understand the horrors of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, we also realized our greatest potential… to pull together, to show compassion, to serve one another.  After Joplin’s EF5 Tornado, the community was thrust into the spotlight, the national media descended on our town, volunteers poured in from everywhere to help.  So many stories were told, about the devastation of course, but also about the character of our people.  When President Obama toured Joplin 7 days after the tornado, he said, “How we live in the aftermath of tragedy and heartache, that is within our control. It is in these moments, through our actions, that we often see a glimpse of what makes life worth living in the first place.”  As we move forward, Joplin will continue to prove our character, to rebuild our city, to serve our neighbors. We ask that the Corporation for National and Community Service join us on our journey.