Ask a Joplin tornado victim if one day really does make a difference and they will most definitely answer ‘yes.’ On Saturday, Oct. 22, 51 “Helpin’ Like a Hog” volunteers consisting of staff from the Arkansas Alumni Association and the Division of Advancement, Association scholarship recipients, and alumni, family and friends, traveled to Joplin in an effort to help those affected by the EF5 tornado that touched down in May 2011. “The main reason I chose to participate in ‘Helpin’ Like a Hog’ was a desire to help others…a desire to show what a positive contribution our University can make in the Joplin community,” said Richard Hebar, an ’82 alumnus.
Once arriving on site, the volunteers separated into three groups. Aiming to help the people of Joplin, the Association reached out to alumni in the area who needed assistance. Five volunteers visited the property of David Kerwin, a ’91 alumnus whose home was destroyed as a result of the tornado. Meredith Hawkins, communications specialist for the Association, spoke with Kerwin about his experience. “Upon surveying the sky, he rushed into his home thinking, ‘get in the bathtub with a blanket over my head,’” she said. However, circumstances led him to run towards his shed and take shelter under his work bench. Waking up the next morning, he was found by two high school students who rushed him to a nearby hospital where he learned he had suffered six cracked ribs and a collapsed lung.
Still recovering mentally, physically and emotionally from his injuries, he bought a home in Carthage, MO, which was the site where volunteers helped to sort, organize and unpack his belongings. Upon learning of the Association’s willingness to help, Hawkins recalled Kerwin growing emotional, saying, “Our presence there gave him a big boost and helped him get his energy up to tackle what, at first, seemed insurmountable.”
In Joplin, 14 “Helpin’ Like a Hog” volunteers assisted at the Joplin Family Worship Center; a distribution center for men, women and children’s clothing, and household items, including blankets, sheets, dishes and paper items. According to Heath Bowman, assistant director of the out-of-state territories, “everything in the distribution center is provided free of charge to families who were impacted by the storms.” The Association’s volunteers worked to “sort and fold clothes, sheets and blankets so that the shelves could be re-stocked for families needing assistance,” Bowman said. Seven thousand volunteers have donated their time to helping and distributing donated goods valued at $5 million since May 2011.
Raising the spirits of many of the families in the area, especially the children, 32 volunteers arrived at Landreth Park to work carnival stations at the “Trunk or Treat” event. Sponsored by Friends Helping Friends and Schrieber Foods, children arrived dressed in Halloween costumes and collected candy and prizes at the various carnival games. In an effort to provide families with basic necessities, “Home Kits” filled with paper goods and food was provided, as well as stuffed animals for the children.
University students and Association scholarship recipients, Megan Frohardt and Megan Handley, shared their reasons for volunteering, as well as the impact of helping in Joplin. “The most satisfying part of the ‘Helpin’ Like a Hog’ experience was personally experiencing the effect we had in helping out,” Frohardt said. Handley stated that she had not had the opportunity to help in the relief effort, but “The Arkansas Alumni Association gave me that opportunity, and I thank them for that.”
Other volunteers expressed their feelings in being involved with “Helpin’ Like a Hog.” Joplin resident, Heather Arnold stated, “Being able to see the difference that is being made in Joplin, while also meeting fellow alumni from across the region, was the best part of my ‘Helpin’ Like a Hog’ experience.” Carl Fallen, a ’63 alumnus, told Bowman he chose to volunteer “out of loyalty to the University of Arkansas. I like helping people who benefit from worthy civic projects.”
ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” will devote its 200th episode to “Seven Homes in Seven Days,” which will feature the Extreme cast and crew in Joplin, building seven new homes for families who were affected by the tornado. To find out more about the events of that day, watch the online slideshow and view uploaded photos provided by Association staff.