Only hours after a devastating tornado tore through Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011 killing more than 160 people, the first team of AmeriCorps volunteers arrived in the community.
Ultimately, more than 300 AmeriCorps volunteers, lead by Kelly Menzie-DeGraff, director of disaster services for theCorporation for National and Community Service, would come to Joplin and help with everything from cleanup and rebuilding to serving meals to residents, all while coordinating more than 60,000 unaffiliated volunteers.
In recognition of their efforts, the Partnership for Public Service named Menzie-DeGraff and her team finalists for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals honoring federal employees. Menzie-DeGraff, along with 32 other finalists, will be honored in Washington Wednesday as part of Public Service Week. The finalists are in contention for nine Service to America awards to be announced Sept. 13.
The EF-5 Joplin tornado, the deadliest in nearly 60 years, destroyed more than 7,000 homes and businesses. John Huff, Missouri’s insurance commissioner, estimated the total insurance payout could total more than $2 billion, making the tornado the costliest in the nation’s history.
Nearly a year later, Joplin is still recovering but making significant progress. NPR reports that the Joplin high school has been temporarily relocated inside the nearby Northpoint Mall but voters recently approved more than $60 million in bonds for the construction of four new schools. President Barack Obama will personally address graduating seniors at this year’s graduation ceremony.
According to the Service to America Medals’ website, volunteers coordinated by Menzi-DeGraff and the AmeriCorps team provided nearly 580,000 hours of service and “contributed to $17.7 million of donated resources to more than 2,000 households.”
Despite the chaos in the hours following the tornado, officials say the AmeriCorps team wasted no time in helping out wherever they could.
“Kelly and her team reacted so quickly and so dramatically,” said John Gomperts, the former director of AmeriCorps. “It was an enormous, extraordinarily coordinated response.”
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told reporters at a press conference in June 2011 that the team was instrumental in coordinating the tens of thousands volunteers that streamed into Joplin looking to help.
“AmeriCorps has played a really lead role in making sure that volunteers have come in and have tasks at hand that are safe and doable,” Nixon said.
The team’s work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during the tornado’s aftermath and at other disaster sites led to the creation of FEMA Corps, a new AmeriCorps unit devoted entirely to disaster response, according to the Service to America Medals’ website.
As a finalist, Menzie-DeGraff is in the running for Federal Employee of the Year, one of the nine Service to America medals.
Photo by www.HandsonNetwork.org.