Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Listening to the community in Joplin, Missouri

By Kathy Young, Director of Operations.

Earlier today fellow Market Street staffer Christa Spaht and I wrapped up a series of focus groups and interviews in Joplin, Missouri. These input sessions with business owners and managers were coordinated by the Joplin Chamber of Commerce as a follow-up to community-wide open houses held on July 12th . In the nine weeks since the community was hit by a catastrophic tornado, city leaders have built a framework for recovery, made incredible progress with debris removal, and have started crafting a vision for moving forward. 

Led by the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team (CART), the process begun just days after the tornado hit has provided structure for the many conversations occurring in every corner of the community as residents, businesses, and leaders discuss the issues and challenges facing them as well as the many assets and opportunities that provide a much needed source of motivation and hope. Using four umbrella categories (Infrastructure and Environment; Housing and Neighborhoods; Schools and Community Facilities; and Economic Development), the CART group is providing community leaders with a systematic way to receive feedback from a population of nearly 50,000 people who were both directly and indirectly affected by the tornado.

This week’s focus groups gave small business owners and larger employers an opportunity to provide feedback about the issues that they felt should be prioritized. At times the discussion aligned closely with issues facing homeowners and the average citizen, previously captured in the initial series of open house meetings. However, there was also a significant amount of discussion concerning issues that were unique to anyone responsible for keeping paychecks flowing to employees, an extreme hardship for the hundreds of business owners who lost everything in tornado. 

In the coming days, our team will report back to the CART group on both the big “themes” that emerged from the five focus groups and assorted interviews. Our first take at evaluating the feedback confirms the expected – that the collective input will include both immediate needs and longer-term issues and opportunities facing the business community and the evolving network of support organizations and agencies like the Chamber, the City, FEMA, SBA, and others. Nine weeks into the recovery and rebuilding process, Joplin continues to benefit from the continued outpouring of worldwide support as well as neighbors helping each other. Whether helping a complete stranger assemble a new household in preparation for their move into temporary housing or small business owners helping spread the word about relocated and reopened businesses (even if they are competitors), the community moves forward with each day. 

As we’ve previously noted, the hard work and optimism of Joplin’s residents provides inspiration for our work in the community, as well as the efforts that are underway in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Ringgold, Georgia; Minot, North Dakota; and other communities coming out of crisis. We encourage our friends and partners to consider helping these communities in whatever way is feasible – financially, through volunteering time, or simply spreading the word. 

For more information on recovery and support efforts, please see:

Recent news from Joplin:
Chamber of Commerce President testifies before Senate Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery
Feds put up $1.5 million for counseling for storm survivors