Superintendent offers inspirational address
Joplin Superintendent Dr. CJ Huff gave an emotional and inspirational address during the 2012 Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce banquet on Saturday. The event, which was held in the Cassville High School commons area, was attended by 174 local community members.
After Gary Whyte, incoming Cassville Chamber president, welcomed those in attendance and Andy Lambel, Cassville United Methodist Church pastor, gave the opening invocation, Dr Huff offered his special address, "The Story of Joplin Schools."
Dr. Huff began his speech with memories of May 22, 2011. He spoke about his difficult journey home while the tornado was bearing down on Joplin.
"There were a lot of miracles that day," said Dr. Huff. "When I left the graduation ceremonies at Missouri Southern State University, they were not talking about a tornado yet.
"I remember I did not hit a single stoplight," said Dr. Huff. "That morning, I had also put a house key on my key chain, and when I reached the house, the front door was locked."
Dr. Huff recalled seeing the wall of rain coming into Joplin as he was nearing his home. He was fortunate to make it inside his home and into the basement where he rode the storm out with his wife. He spoke about the lengthy amount of time it took the tornado to make its way through Joplin.
After the tornado had passed, the Huff family decided to try to help their fellow community members, but many of the streets were blocked making it difficult to reach those in need. He said he soon realized he was most needed in his role as Joplin Schools superintendent.
Within the first 24 hours after the tornado devastated Joplin, the school district established an emergency operations center, began utilizing school buses as emergency vehicles, opened undamaged schools as emergency shelters, opened a central distribution center, cancelled classes for the remainder of the year and created a communications team.
Dr. Huff spoke about working to locate the district's students and staff members. The district used its auto-dialer system, Facebook, radio and television advertising, email, text messages and door-to-door efforts to find students and staff members.
The tornado hit Joplin on Sunday. All staff members were accounted for by Wednesday, and all students were located by Saturday.
The tornado damaged or destroyed nearly a dozen Joplin schools, but the district worked to ensure it began classes on time in August. This was achieved through daily meetings with staff members and construction agencies.
During the summer, the district offered a summer school program to get children off the streets and give parents an opportunity to meet with FEMA, insurance adjusters and other individuals. The district also organized a team to attend the funerals of all students, staff members and family members of students and staff members.
Other family support services organized by the district included: the Adopt-an-Eagle Program; open enrollment for students relocated outside the district; a child trauma center; crisis and trauma training for staff members; expanded counseling services; winter camp; and the Bright Futures Initiative, which utilizes community resources to assist students in need.
Dr. Huff ended his address with several inspirational lessons he learned in the tornado's aftermath:
* The relationships developed today are the relationships that may be needed to survive tomorrow.
* Find something to celebrate every day. Short-term wins become a symbol of progress and hope.
* The work that is done to develop system-wide leadership capacity pays dividends in a crisis. Anyone can step up as a leader.
* If you have hired well, never underestimate the ability of the leadership team.
After Dr. Huff's speech, Michael LeCompte, outgoing chamber president, recognized Sonic and Whitley Pharmacy as the winners of the 2011 Business Beautification Awards.
Greg Beck was recognized as the recipient of the Volunteer of the Year Award. Mary Beck accepted the award on behalf of her son, who was unable to attend the banquet.
The Community Service Award was presented to Jon Horner, who has served as chamber president, chamber board member and on a variety of chamber committees. Horner is also a member of several other local organizations, including the Cassville Rotary Club.
Outgoing and incoming board members were also recognized during the banquet. Those leaving the board include: LeCompte, Stacy Runnels, Dr. Chip Kammerlohr, Blake Whitley and Jan Massey. New board members are: Guila Norris, Joel Curren, Kelly Mills and Coy Dalton.