Friday, September 20, 2013

Meeting Jesse Warren


When SPPRAK travels we like to visit churches. On this Sunday, we choose a church based on a couple of criteria: late start, due to the previous days fourteen hour journey and easy to find in a new city. Trinity Lutheran it would be, seemed a good fit, and, lets face it, it is not the church that makes the difference it is the people. Lucky us, we picked the right church with the right group of people!

As soon as we arrived and stepped out of our car we were greeted with a good morning! Remember our back window was painted up for our Moore trip, we weren't what you call inconspicuous. Someone held the door as we walked in to more greetings, a minister that shook our hands hardily, we could tell everyone was genuine. When Pastor Roger asked what brought us to Oklahoma City, we were happy to tell him. One of the alter boys was Jesse Warren, an eleven year old who attends school in Moore, as did his friend Abigail. In fact, more than a few in the church had ties to Moore. A counselor, a teacher, students. We also just happened to come on 50's and 60's day. Dressing up optional but encouraged and of course there was a lunch after the service. Complete with music we had a pretty good time with this great group of people.

While we were there, we asked Jesse's parents, Winnie and Jesse, if we could speak to him about the day of the tornado. When asked about that day, Jesse is forthcoming, he said he was scared, but that the tornado missed his school. His teacher allowed students to contact their parents so Winnie and Jesse knew their son was safe. As was their neighborhood. However, once they were home, Winnie discovered that the only family they knew at Plaza Towers, the school that had been destroyed by the tornado, was not so lucky. Jesse said he remembered his mom screaming as she read a Facebook message. Jesse's friend Christopher had been one of the 7 children killed that day, his brother, Jesse's good friend, and little sister were badly injured. Their father had run to the school to help and had pulled his children from the rubble. As a parent it is hard to imagine, but Jesse is a child, and when asked how he felt about this, he is silent for a moment. “Sad. I played football with him, I liked him.” It is football season again, but Jesse and Christopher's brother play on different teams now. Winnie, Jesse's mom, fills in that Christopher was not where he was suppose to be, he was down the hall playing with a little girl that he was friends with. When the storm comes, Christopher covers the girl with his body as the wall collapses on them. The little girl survives. It seems like something he would do, Jesse says. When asked if he feels strange about starting school with all that has happened he says he is a little nervous. And while he did lose a friend, his school, home and normal day to day life was not affected by the tornado. How does that feel? Jesse shares that it is a little strange sometimes. Jesse's father is an officer in the Air Force and the family moves around a lot. They came to Moore only a little more than a year ago. They had not lived in Moore that long before the tornado and had not lived here when the May 3, 1996 tornado happened.

Jesse, like most eleven year olds enjoys attention, but you can tell he is caring, friendly and open.
The talk with Jesse was encouraging, he was excited about our program coming to his school. His parents were very kind, in letting Jesse tell his story, and agreeing to have it in our blog. There are not a lot of details, and that may disappoint some, but Jesse is a child, his personal experience with that day is different than others. His school was spared, he returned to his home and had his parents with him. And that is okay. It is more than okay. And when they hang the banner in his school, he will be able to say he talked to SPPRAK, and that they wanted to bring the SPPRAK Pack program to Moore to help ease the pain and encourage the school children effected in Moore to be OK.

The Warren family and Pastor Roberts

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A visit to Joplin, Missouri

Next up on the trip to Moore OK blog? A visit to Joplin. It has been approximately 2 ½ years since Joplin MO was hit by an F5 tornado, on May 22, 2011. There were 161 lives lost that day, who cannot recall the day it hit? It was graduation day for high schools, just the beginning of summer break for others. Spring is a beautiful season in Missouri, a season of new growth. And the start of tornado season. No one takes that for granted. Even here in Indiana,that time of year tornado watches and warnings are common. In retrospect any town hit by a devastating tornado can come up with what ifs and plans for what could, should, would happen. The future is just that, the future. When we decided to stop at Joplin we did so to see Cunningham Park. It is a beautiful place, a place to honor those who died, those who helped rebuild and those who's lives changed forever. There is a fountain, with spigots that represent the date the tornado changed everything. Five on top, twenty two in the middle and 11 on the bottom, signifying May 22, 2011. The fountain has a plaque in front with the names of each person who lost their life that day. The plaque is large, you can run your fingers over the names imagining the life that went with it. You follow a path that leads to a tribute to the volunteers that came to help. It was designed to honor the many that have changed Joplin, not for money or fame, but because they felt called to help recover the town from devastation. There, a mosaic of pieces of people's lives. A fork, a piece of plastic which was once a bowl or glass, keys and trinkets. Memories in cement. There are work tools set in cement, gloves, a hard hat, sledge hammer. The volunteer tribute is moving in a different way, it tells the story of people who could have easily “let someone else do it” and continued on with their lives. Only they didn't, Joplin called them in. As you continue along the path, there are playground areas, picnic shelters. Toward the end is a small water feature, a shallow pond with gold fish and a water fall. This is a tribute to the children who will never play at this park, who's lives were cut short by the tornado and those taken too soon. While we were there two boys were playing, surely they did not know the significance their playing meant. It was as though life, once stopped on that horrible day, now goes on. Along this journey that SPPRAK took in route to Moore, OK, we felt called ourselves to check on what had happened to this town, how do you come back from such tragedy? Do you even want to? The answer here is yes, you do come back, yes you do want to. But it is not without struggle, and lessons learned. You will see later how these lessons impacted the town of Moore. Joplin was a stop SPPRAK happened to make in our journey, we took a piece of the town with us, not in something tangible, but in spirit. 
Memorial Fountain

Names of those that lost their lives May 22, 2011

A tribute to the volunteers
Articles from tornado
Volunteer hammer

          Volunteer Hat

Reflection Pond
Ring at Cunningham Memorial Park

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Thank you Epoch Awards

This year SPPRAK was honored to be nominated for an Epoch Award. Being nominated is an honor, humbling and exciting! Epoch exists to honor unsung heroes. Groups that are quietly going about the business of making life better for others. That is what we believe SPPRAK is about. This past year our mission has seen such an expansion by means of the SPPRAK PACK. This program uses sticky notes to let children write acts of kindness done to them by others, the notes are then posted on a banner for everyone to read. We just returned from Moore OK, where we presented the SPPRAK PACK program to counselors of that school system. What an unbelievable blessing that was to all of us! SPPRAK believes that even the smallest act of kindness can make a huge impact on someone’s day. We want to change the culture in our world, not by yelling and demanding, but by showing kindness toward others. Epoch is giving away a $500 Visa gift card, and SPPRAK could use this to expand the SPPRAK PACK program and our cause to spread kindness. What this would mean to the thousands of school children who participate in our program remains to be seen, however, we believe that if you touch a child, if you cause a change in a child, you can change a family and a community. Thanks Epoch for noticing our work through our nomination!

Epoch Nominees 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

This summer SPPRAK has been busy getting ready to SPPRAK Moore, OK. A project to bring our SPPRAK Pack program to the Moore OK school system. The plan was to drive the banners over and present them to the counselors in the school system.

Well, the time has arrived, bright and early September 7th we were off! Robin styled up her back window  for the occasion, we packed up the 30+ banners, made a stop at Regional Hospital to pick up one SPPRAK Moore banner, which was signed by people in our community who donated, and well wishers, and a last photo op. When you head out on an adventure you have an idea of how it will go, but as usual things come up. It's funny that when SPPRAK heads out, we do try to catch others performing random acts of kindness, the first act of kindness was done to us! A truck driver guided us through the traffic stopped at St. Louis. And as much as our desire was to bless a community because of what they have been through we ended  up the ones who were blessed. This blog starts a series of several blogs about our trip. The reason for more than one blog? There is too much for just one. The stories are too important to just slightly mention. Now our trip is winding down, but we want to share the beginning, when we were so sure ours was the gift, that our program would hopefully mean something to the counselors and administrators, and ultimately the children. These things we will share with you right now. The people of Moore are friendly, welcoming, and ever grateful for the support that they have received and continue to receive. They are amazed that people in Terre Haute, IN and London, France care about something that happened to them. On the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum wall is a statement: "A Day Like Any Other" and that is what May 20th was. It started the same way for all of us, however, it ended very differently for the people of Moore. This fact is the thread that holds us all and begs our attention. Come back and meet Jesse, W and his family, a student at Fairview Elementary who lost a friend at Plaza Towers. Gail S., who is the Director of Student Services, who helped bring the SPPRAK program to Moore, Dr. Robert R, the Superintendent of Moore Schools, Brenda who lost her home, it was the last one standing before "ground zero". You will see that these people are just like us, this could have happened anywhere, we can only hope that our faith and tenacity would help us come back as well as Moore has. Everywhere you see signs that Moore will be OK.