One month after an EF-5 tornado ravaged Joplin, Missouri, killing 156 people and destroying a third of the city, Audubon staff in Joplin and across the country are working to help the city – especially its children – heal through the tonic of nature.
Generous financial support from the Audubon family has allowed staff at Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center in Joplin to launch new summer camps and other programming for its neighbors affected by the deadly tornado.
In keeping with its role as a vital community resource for nature education and inspiration, the center has launched Operation Backyard Recovery to focus on the community’s short- and long-term needs during the crisis. It is similar to an effort launched by Audubon’s Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In Joplin, Audubon is reaching out to local partners such as the Boys & Girls Clubs to offer additional summer camps and environmental education programs free of charge during this crisis. Programs will be tailored to integrate art therapy, nature journaling, volunteerism opportunities, and other learning activities to help the people of Joplin experience the healing power of nature.
This week, the center’s Boys & Girls Clubs partner, which tends to some of the most economically disadvantaged children in the community, brought the first of many groups to the center. Robin McAlester, Wildcat Glades’ executive director, recalls the response: “The Club’s director was very touched. After sharing that many of their staff lost their homes in the tornado and three of their young members lost their lives she and expressed a heartfelt thank you saying, ‘This is just the kind of program our kids, and staff, need but with limited funding and no more capacity for so many children, we wouldn’t have been able to provide it for them.’”
Another program will use bird sounds to introduce visually impaired children to the wonders of nature. “I’ve seen this program in action, and it’s one of the most powerful opportunities to watch a child’s world change,” said Tony Robyn, executive director of Audubon Missouri.
Earlier this month, Turnaround Ranch, a residential facility that assists troubled youth, brought 17 students who had been in some way affected by the tornado to the center to reconnect with nature through a new program focusing on trails through the chert glades.
The chert glades at the center represent a unique habitat type found primarily in southwestern Missouri. About 60 high-quality acres of this habitat are left in the world; 27 acres are within Wildcat Park, site of the center. Glades are very dry places with thin soils. Plants growing there include native grasses, cactus and wildflowers. Animals such as lizards, snakes, scorpions and tarantulas are closely adapted to the desert-like conditions. Roadrunners were once a more familiar sight on the glades, but are becoming increasingly uncommon due to shrinking habitat.
“We want our supporters to know the power of what they’ve done to help this community begin its long recovery,” Robyn said. “The Audubon family, in Missouri and across the country, will help us show that nature can be a benevolent force as well as a destructive one.”