Joplin school superintendent shares advice for better schools, disaster recovery at United Way annual luncheon

Friday, May 25, 2012
Superintendent of Joplin Schools Dr. C.J. Huff speaks about the aftermath of the tornado that struck Joplin last year during Thursday's United Way of Southeast Missouri's annual meeting at Drury Lodge in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

The future beyond one Sunday afternoon in May 2011 looked especially bright in the eyes of school administrators, parents and community members who helped the largest-ever number of Joplin High seniors cross the stage to receive diplomas.

In just one year, partnerships between Joplin's public schools and the community had cut the number of dropout students in half. Those partnerships made meeting the needs of students possible, and prompted better grades, better attendance and a better school. A plan was working in Joplin.

Then, the unimaginable. An EF-5 tornado struck Joplin on the evening of May 22, 2011, just minutes after the high school wrapped up graduation ceremonies. Schools were destroyed. Thousands of people, many of them Joplin students, lost their homes. Others also lost family members and friends. Seven students were among the 161 people killed by the tornado.

Recovery from such loss seemed then to be very far away, Dr. C.J. Huff, superintendent of the Joplin School District, told a roomful of United Way of Southeast Missouri staff, board members and supporters Thursday during his keynote address at the organization's annual luncheon at Drury Lodge.

During his presentation, Huff told his personal story from the day the tornado hit Joplin, showed photos of the storm's aftermath and news video of Joplin students returning to school in August. Moreover, he talked about the effect a program known as Bright Futures had on Joplin students and schools in the year leading up to the tornado.

"Everything we thought we knew about the importance of schools and community came true. The relationships we built with the community are what carried us forward," Huff said of the program and the response of the community to the disaster.

Huff said what the program did was capture resources already available in the community and use them in an effective way in schools. Between April 2010 and now, the program has helped Joplin schools form more than 250 partnerships with faith-based organizations, businesses and human service organizations. The partnerships allowed many students' basic needs to be met, Huff said, and helped the schools address issues of need for many students. The relationships formed before May 22, 2011, helped the community and the schools get to the point of recovery they are at today, he said.

The program uses community ambassadors working with school administrators, and can be replicated in places like Cape Girardeau for the benefit of schools and communities, Huff said.

"Joplin is like Cape in that there are people just like you," he said to the audience, "who work hard to get other people in a better place."

The luncheon was attended by superintendents of local school districts, including Cape Girardeau's Dr. Jim Welker and Jackson's Dr. Ron Anderson, representatives of businesses that contribute to fundraising campaigns for the United Way, organizations which are funded partners, the organization's volunteers, fundraising board and board of directors.

The luncheon is held to honor the contributions of the fundraisers and volunteers and to give special recognition to an individual, a company and a funded partner that promote the organization's mission through giving of their time or finances.

The individual award, called the Spirit of Giving Award, was presented to Bekki Cook, a Cape Girardeau resident and former Missouri secretary of state, as recognition for her efforts to begin and expand Read to Succeed, a volunteer-run reading program used in Cape Girardeau elementary schools.

US Bank was presented with the Spirit of Community Award, given to a company for supporting the work of the United Way. The company has doubled its annual financial contribution to the organization since it began contributing in 1996 and in 2011 gave $12,000 to the local annual fundraising campaign. The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity was presented with the Spirit of Caring Award. The chapter gave back a portion of funds provided to it by the United Way when the organization's 2010 annual fundraising campaign came up short of the goal.

Also recognized for contributions during the luncheon were the organization's 2011 campaign chairs, Kevin Greaser and Stan Penn, KFVS12's Stephanie Byars for organizing a recent 5K run/walk which raised funds for the United Way and 2011's top 20 campaign contributors. The annual campaign raised over $918,000 for the organization, which works in the local area to improve education, income and health for communities. Top 20 contributors gave 75 percent of funds raised in 2011.

The luncheon was sponsored y US Bank, the Bank of Missouri. SoutheastHEALTH, Procter & Gamble and Capaha Bank.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

430 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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