By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Leslie Mart sees damage in the Joyner neighborhood to mature trees, homes and other valuables from last month’s tornado, but also sees improvements along the streets lined with debris and roofs covered with blue tarps.
Some 170 homes were damaged in the neighborhood alone from the EF3 tornado, yet the 17-year Joyner resident is thankful for the resilience of its residents.
The former neighborhood association president remembers times she and others battled apathy while encouraging residents to participate in local projects and events. However, in recent weeks, that apathy has become a distant memory.
Neighbors a few houses or even a few streets apart now ask how they can help and what they can offer.
“You can’t put value on trees that will take a long time to grow,” Mart said last week. “But it’s also hard to put a value on strengthening relationships and bonds with neighbors.”
Since the tornado slammed into the area, hundreds of Joyner neighborhood residents have been joined by hundreds, perhaps thousands of others from elsewhere that have pitched in to volunteer.
They have worked together to help remove debris, checked on neighbors and found other ways to help during the time of crisis.
Mart contributed by intensifying her regular efforts to share information with residents to inform them about disaster relief and recovery.
The Joyner Facebook group has swollen to 465 members, a 170 percent increase since before the tornado. Immediately after the tornado, many people without electricity and other basic resources relied on online social networks for information.
Mart has interacted more than 300 times on the Joyner Neighborhood Association’s Facebook group. She shared basic information about where to look for lost pets, resources available for help and when and where important meetings would happen.
“I made it my job to get the information out there and be the conduit,” she said.
Mart also helped mobilize volunteers to help with debris removal and other assistance in the neighboring Bristow Acres, which doesn’t have an active neighborhood association.
She said what blossomed into residents of her neighborhood helping others nearby started by checking on a congregant of the Jewish temple in Joyner – Jack Cristil, the legendary sports announcer at Mississippi State University.
“All of a sudden we end up with this huge quantity of people who wanted to help Jack’s neighborhood,” she said.
Just more than a month after the storm, debris remains and most residents have accepted recovery as a long-term process. The Joyner Neighborhood Association will hold two meetings this week related to rebuilding.
However, Mart said the neighborhood eventually will improve beyond the place residents remember before the storm.
“We’ll come out of this stronger because we know each other better,” she said. “It means so much that you feel that you belong someplace, can make a difference and the people care that you’re there.”