Before the monster tornado struck, Marie was an active volunteer with the American Red Cross in Joplin. The night the tornado hit, Marie lost her apartment and most of her personal possessions.
Unhurt, she began driving through the debris towards help. Along the way, she helped others, even pulling an injured truck driver to safety. When the debris made driving impossible, she began walking. Along the way, she helped with the initial search and rescue efforts, checking to see if anyone needed help.
Marie walked eight miles to the Red Cross office. En route, she climbed over downed tree limbs, walked around broken houses that had been blown into the street and navigated through debris left by the fierce twister. Once at the local Red Cross office, she was given a ride to the university where a Red Cross shelter was being set up. Not only did she help set up the shelter, she then spent the next three nights there as a client.
Prior to the disaster, Marie and I were virtual friends. We had never met, but we followed each other on Twitter and were Facebook friends. We became acquainted as she volunteered her skills in social media to help the Red Cross communicate with key audiences.
Marie and I met in person when I arrived in Joplin to join the public affairs team. Though she was still putting her personal life back together, she chose to work as a Red Cross volunteer so she could help the people directly affected by the tornado. In our job headquarters, Marie served as the social media lead. There she monitored Twitter and Facebook to hear what people were saying and to learn where additional help was needed. She used those social media platforms to engage people in conversation and to let them know how the Red Cross could help.
One evening after work, Marie took another woman and me on a personalized tour within the tornado’s footprint. We retraced the route from her apartment to the Red Cross office and then to the Red Cross shelter. Along the way, she relived the experience and helped me to realize how horrific that deadly night actually was.
Against the darkest nights, stars like Marie shine most brightly. Her courage and her spirit of service will continue to shape my memories of Joplin. Not only did she endure the storm, she grew stronger by reaching out to help others in need. Marie truly was an inspiration.