I completed my final day of nine straight days blogging but I thought it was necessary to include some information about this trip, program, and town. I know I left out a lot of details but I was saving them for this last post before I move onto an all new territory of blogging. Let’s start from the beginning, I started high school in 2010 at Hempfield Area High School. High school was possibly the worst four years of my entire life thus far. It is easy to say that I had more bad memories than good ones. I compared my high school to jail for most of the time I was there. Like every high school, they tell you to get involved, so I did. I joined a bunch of clubs and Interact Club was just one of them. If you do not know what Interact Club is, it is a club for 12-18 year old students and is a branch of Rotary International. I got very involved with Interact my last two years of high school. Interact was one of the good memories of high school. I am not exactly sure when this program started with exchanging two students from KS to PA but I do know it was to get a couple of kids out of the mess and just get away from everything for a while after the tornado and rebuild in KS. It started with just bringing two kids from KS and then a few years later they decided to send one student from PA out. Like I said in a previous post, I have no idea how the students from PA get chosen but the students from KS get chosen by the school; or at least that is what the boys from the past three years have told me. If you want to know how I got chosen, you can read my first blog post here. It isn’t extravagant but it is how I was asked!
When I was chosen, I had to meet with a few of the Rotary members, Mark and Jeff, to discuss the whole plan of the exchange. We met in the middle of winter when every parking lot in Greensburg, PA was covered in a sheet of ice! At the time, I knew nothing about the town of Greensburg, KS and why it was so special and important. I was not one to watch the news regularly, especially in 2007, when I was in middle school. From the night we had the meeting onward — until I left for KS — I researched this town and what had happened on a regular basis. I watched dozens of videos online about the town and the tornado. I wanted to learn as much as I could about this town before I got there. I could not help but wonder how I had never heard of this tragedy.
2007 was known as the deadliest tornado seasons since 1999. On May 4th, 2007 an EF 5 tornado leveled 95% of Greensburg, KS. On that evening, supercell thunderstorms formed across the Midwest. A supercell southwest of Greensburg formed 12 tornadoes. One of the twelve tornadoes formed in northwest Commanche County approximately at 9 p.m. The EF 5 touched down and moved northeast through Kiowa County at a speed of 20 MPH. The tornado continued to destruct on the ground for a total of 65 minutes, destroying most of Greensburg around 9:45 P.M. at a magnificent width of 1.7 miles wide. The tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service 20 minutes before the tornado reached town. Surface winds were recorded at 205 miles per hour and the tornado was on the ground for a mighty total of 29 miles. At 9:45 P.M., 1400 lives were changed at an instant, 63 people were injured and sadly 11 lives were lost. The red line you see is the path that the tornado took through Greensburg. I watched numerous videos of the destruction and families rummaging through their homes. The one that hit me hard and actually brought tears to my eyes was a local pastor seeing his church for the first time after the tornado. You can watch that here. It was absolutely saddening watching him instantly cry at the view of what once was a beautiful church in complete rubble. I also included another documentary video that is so saddening. It is absolutely appalling how much damage a tornado can do.
Whenever something bad happens I always say, out of all bad things come good things. As much as this was a devastating natural disaster, this town made the most out of the disaster and possibly made the greatest decision a town could ever make. Within the next few weeks after the tornado, the Greensburg community had decided to rebuild with sustainability in their minds. They could have rebuilt just the same way the town was before the tornado but, they did not choose that way and it sure as anything paid off in the end for them. Yes, everyone lived in trailers for months, students went to school only to have their classrooms be trailers for months but those trailers turned into a beautiful school. This town did not go semi sustainable, they went full throttle sustainable. Since the tornado wiped the town apart, they have built a wind farm, the most LEED certified green buildings per capita in the world INCLUDING the Platinum-certified school I mentioned in one of my previous posts. I did not mention in one of my previous posts that the high school rarely uses lights in their gymnasium because the ceiling allows for all natural lighting. Here is another bonus, they have lockers made out of recycled milk jugs!! Their turf, like lots of schools, is made out of ground up old tires. I know everyone loves getting turf turd in their shoes!
Here a fact too, the tornado siren is sounded four times a day 7 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., and 6 p.m. and go one for about a minute. Let me tell you and I kid you not, I almost peed my pants the first time I heard it because the sky was quite cloudy and it was rainy that day. If you want to see your blood pressure rise higher than it should be then have this happen to you!
I look at Greensburg, KS like a butterfly. After the tornado struck the town, it was anything but a pretty sight to see. Just like a caterpillar, they are creepy little buggers but with time, they grow up to be a beautiful butterfly that has spread its wings and flies for the first time. That is exactly what Greensburg is; it took time but every second spent on this town was worth it because it became a beautiful little butterfly. The town has flourished since rebuilding and still is flourishing going on 9 years later.
After learning all of this I thought I was prepared to go to Greensburg. I was far from prepared though. Each family I stayed with taught me something new and incredible. Lisa taught me that no matter the circumstances, everything will be fine in the end. She taught me that through the times we looked through all of the tornado stuff. Greg taught me that you never quit fighting any battle. Jan and Gene taught me a different way of life. Without Gene, Coby, and Cory I would still be wondering how to drive a quad and shoot guns! Without Jan, I would have never known how much a TV studio can bring me such happiness. She is the reason I help out with a TV broadcast show at my college now. Mark and Geneva, taught me that you should never stop learning new things. Mark had so much knowledge behind everything we did and I can only hope one day to be as knowledgable as him! Sue and her son had proved that family matters and it showed by how close they all were. Marilyn taught me, even more, that you always have to have faith in God because he is always watching over you. She and her family were truly blessed with the help they got to rebuild her home. The safe room in her home signed with all the volunteers proves it too.
The best times there were getting to know people and helping out with stuff. Yeah sure, going to all of those different places were awesome but, in all reality I would have been just as happy just to be there to experience the culture they have out there. That is all that truly mattered to me. Rotary became a huge part of my life and I wish I could still be a part of it. Sadly, Robert Morris University does not have a Rotaract Club for the students. It is something that I would like to bring to RMU during the next three years I have there. Rotary changed my life for the better.
This trip was anything but a vacation to me, contrary to what some people think. Rotary has helped me more than I could ever realize until I got to college and started applying what I learned from them to my everyday life away from home. I am so proud to have been chosen as (I guess they would call me) an ambassador to go on this exchange for Greensburg Rotary Club 5228. I loved every moment of it, even if it did mean almost peeing my pants at the tornado siren! I am not sure if anyone from my high school reads my blog or not but, I want them to know that the reason we have a storm siren is because of Greensburg, KS. The senior class years ago after we had our small tornado donated their senior trip fund to our school to purchase a siren for us. That siren saved lots of injuries spring of my junior year during a powderpuff football game. At that time, I did not even know where that siren came from. Greensburg, KS was affecting me before I even knew about them. People say I am crazy for saying this but, Kansas made me happier than I have ever been in my entire life. Greensburg, PA Rotary placed an agriculture loving student into a full blown agriculture place. I could not have asked for a better way to learn more about agriculture. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about that place. I have decided that after college, and when the money is right, I would like to experience living in the place that once made me so happy. It is a dream of mine that I hope to make come true.
I forgot to mention when I was with Jan, she bought me a bottle of Duck Salt. It is literally a bottle of heaven! This is my holy grail of cooking anymore. My favorite use is on popcorn! I throw it on some plain popcorn and the flavor is just amazing! Seriously, buy some and try it! I get a taste of Kansas whenever I want! Matt Deighton, the creator of Duck Salt, also wrote a children’s book called Molly and the Tornado. The book is about Matt’s dog and how the tornado was through her eyes. I got to meet Matt around town one day and let me tell you, he was such a cheerful man!
Again, I just had to include another one of the Kiowa County Media Center’s videos. They do such amazing work and Grant really knows what he is doing over there in the media center!! He has taught a lot of those students well! Be sure to check out more of his work! The great part about this entire post is, there is so much more to know about this town that I simply cannot tell you without spending
days weeks typing out. Everyone needs to experience this town in person and getting to know the townspeople. People will be amazed how well their community communicates with one another. I know when I gave my presentations last year during and after my exchange, I was at a loss of words and I was not 100% sure how to fully thank the clubs all they way but now, I hope I have thanked them fully. I thank them for the knowledge I have gained. The knowledge that I want all of my friends to have someday. Thank you Greensburg Rotary Club 5228 and Greensburg Rotary Club 1584 for letting me have this surreal and wonderful opportunity.