This summer Joplin may be the busiest place in the state. There is no summertime slow- down there, as the town is a bee hive of activity from teams of volunteers come to assist with tornado recovery. A significant part of that effort is Missouri Conference United Methodist youth summer work camps, which are contributing about 750 volunteers to the effort this summer.
The youth are descending on Joplin for four weeks. They are staying primarily at Byers Avenue UMC, but some are also staying at First UMC and Christ Community UMC.
St. Stephen in Troy, Wellsville/ Almond and Open Hearts joined together to make the trip down to Joplin. Mark Spence, pastor at Wellsville, has been on several mission trips like this, but this was his first as pastor. His youth had been building access ramps, staining decks, roofing and interior work.
“There’s definitely a lot of need here everywhere we go,” he said.
The days begin early, and involve jobs ranging from painting and debris clean-up to finish carpentry work. The job assignments come from the Missouri Conference VIM office, Americorps or Rebuild Joplin. Americorps has been working with as many as 1,000 volunteers a week this summer in Joplin.
“It’s very much a cooperative effort,” said Missouri Conference Youth Director Beverly Boehmer. She has had youth teams working at 20 different sites all over Joplin. Some of the projects involve rehabbing houses that were not damaged by the tornado.
“Some people who lost their homes in the tornado have had to move into other houses in Joplin that weren’t in the path of the tornado, but are in bad condition due to lack of maintenance,” Boehmer said. “We’re helping get those houses in better condition.”
Kate Fox, a volunteer youth worker from Salem in Ladue, has been moved by the plight of Joplin. “It’s been amazing to hear first-hand the stories from people who experienced and survived the tornado,” she said. “We’ve prayed with them, and they’ve expressed such hope and gratitude. It gives us some perspectives on our own lives.”
Abby Addleman was in Joplin with her youth group from Centenary UMC in Cape Girardeau. She had been to Joplin last fall with other volunteer teams. She was impressed with how the town has been cleaned up. “Last fall there was still stuff everywhere,” she said.
Alex Gentle was part of Addleman’s group. It was his first time in Joplin.
“After having seen all of the pictures from Joplin, I expected things here to look worse than they are,” he said. “They’ve made great progress. There is still a lot of work to do, though.”
Eric Peters, a youth from Salem-in-Ladue on his fourth mission trip, agreed. “I’ve seen pictures of the rubble, so it’s great to see everything being rebuilt now,” he said as he worked to frame in a new window on a house. “Joplin is going to be a new town with a bright future.”
This was the first mission trip for Mitch Elliot from Salem-in- Ladue. He spent the week scraping and then painting a house. “It’s been fun,” he said. “I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with my friends than I normally would at home.”
Missy Nance, Joplin Volunteers In Mission Coordinator for the Missouri Conference, said she is booked with teams through the second week of August, and things start getting back to normal after that. “I do have teams scheduled for every month except November and December,” she said. “Some have already scheduled for the summer of 2013.”
An Americorp representative expressed that as summer begins to wind down, there is a need for smaller teams of skilled workers. There were also Missouri Conference youth work camps in Colorado and Oklahoma, bringing the total number of participants (youth plus adult sponsors) to about 1,200.