COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A host of volunteer efforts are putting backpacks on Joplin students' shoulders, pencils in their hands and smiles on their faces as they go back to school.
The new school facilities are ready to welcome them back, thanks in part to volunteers.
When students walk into their new classrooms on Wednesday, they will notice decorations on the walls and library books on the shelves -- many donated. High school students will be greeted just inside the entrance by huge wooden statues of eagles, the school mascot, carved by volunteers. And on that first day, every child in Joplin schools will receive a backpack adorned with an eagle and stuffed with school supplies.
Donations and volunteer services like these fill the gap between what government disaster aid programs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency can provide and the at-large needs of the community.
"From new desks and chairs to new haircuts, volunteers have donated their time, money and manpower to education in Joplin," said Federal Coordinating Officer Libby Turner. "These efforts affirm that volunteers and voluntary organizations are an integral part of providing support to communities recovering from disasters."
Since the May 22 tornado leveled six of the city's schools and heavily damaged five others, volunteers have logged more than 366,000 hours in Joplin. Many of those volunteer hours have been devoted specifically to preparation for the beginning of the school year.
"It is so important for everyone to realize that we are starting back to school on time, August 17, not just because of the work of the school employees, architects, plumbers and construction workers, but also because of the massive numbers of volunteers who helped clean, decorate, paint, move furniture and do so many other jobs," said Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer. "That's what has made this work."
There is still room for more assistance, according to Kim Vann, director of community development for Joplin Public Schools.
"We need signage in the schools which were destroyed," Vann said. "We are focused on 'eagling it up' this year, but since we aren't necessarily replacing signage that was already in place, we have to raise the funds in another way."
Vann added that the schools are still in need of transportation for after-school activities one day per week for each elementary school so that children can access extracurricular activities. Vann estimated the project's cost at approximately $1,600 per year for each of the 12 elementary schools. The schools' supply of prizes for academic achievement also needs to be restocked, at about $1,000 per school.
Want to know how you can pitch in?
For contributions to the Joplin schools, checks should be made out to Joplin Schools Tornado Relief Fund and sent to:
Joplin Schools Administrative Building
Attn: Kim Vann
3901 E 32nd Street
Joplin, MO 64801
Individuals can also donate to Joplin schools by dropping off donations at any U.S. Bank or by mailing a check to:
Joplin Schools Tornado Relief Fund
P.O. Box 8
Joplin, MO 64802
To donate your time to helping Joplin schools recover, you can sign up at brightfuturesjoplin.org/give-time/.
To fill a backpack with supplies costs about $40. You can help Joplin by donating the funds needed to purchase those items through the Adopt-an-Eagle program. To contribute, please designate in the memo line that the funds are for the Adopt-an-Eagle program and make your checks payable to:
Joplin Schools Operation Center
3901 East 32nd St.
Joplin, MO 64804
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