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Joplin Tornado Survivors Reflect On The Last 3 Years And Continue To Look Forward

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Cunningham Park has been the central point for many on this date the past couple of years. First, a "unity walk" culminating in a ceremony two-years ago. Last year, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano came to town. This year it no big names, no dignitaries...just survivors.

"We are Joplin strong." was the main message Mayor Mike Seibert spoke to citizens attending the new Butterfly Garden and Overlook in Cunningham Park.
The park dedication this evening brought survivors and their families to take a look back on the last 3 years.

But many still ask the question...How does one define the word survivor?

13 year old Mason Lillard defines it as "Gods grace. God had his hand on Joplin and God had his hand on these people." She survived the tornado with her family. At the age of 10, she and her family took cover at Home Depot. Mason has had several major surgeries on her arm due to the injuries sustained, but she's not letting that slow her down. She plans to become a cheerleader, and softball player this year.

"Joplin stood up, pulled themselves out of the rubble, pulled each other up, and have just been so resilient." says Traci Sooter of Drury University, and a key influence on the park.

At the dedication of the butterfly garden and overlook, many are reminded of the memories, but finding that inner strength to move forward.

 "It still didn't break the towns and everybody spirits. It practically lifted it more up than it did down." Lillard says.

"It is my hope that future generations will come to this spot, read the story boards and understand not only what happened, but how a community can come together and rebuild." Chris Cotten, Joplin's Parks and Recreation Director addressed the crowd.

Throughout the park visitors can explore different elements within the garden, all of which relate to the tornado - acceptance of reality, processing the pain and grief, finding a destination and creating a world that isn't lost. One of the key elements that designers wanted to incorporate in this park is reflection, and that includes a journal where people can come write their own personal stories or memories to share with one another.

"You get to see survivors that you met before, some that you met in the hospitals, some that you helped out or they helped you out. It's a good thing." Rodney Lillard remembers.

With the ribbon formally cut, and the park open, many are ready to begin this next chapter together, as a unified community.

"Make no mistake about it, what could never be destroyed by any storm in this is the unmatchable spirit and the tireless drive of the people of Joplin, and of southwest Missouri." says Walmart Store Manager (Rangeline Road Store), Andy Martin.


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