Little Falls native honored for work with AmeriCorps in Joplin

AmeriCorps members were honored for their service in recovery efforts following the Joplin, Mo. tornado in May 2011 by the Missouri House of Representatives. Pictured are AmeriCorps members who were honored front row (from left): Nicole Rath, Josh Peterson and Joe McGerr. Back row: Jon Johnson, Hannah Olson, Nik Kadel, Ethan Meyer, Tom Brenner, Jerry Buker, Ashley LaPlante and Joe Anderson.

On Tuesday, the Missouri House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing the service of AmeriCorps members, including Jerry Buker of Little Falls, for their indispensible role in the recovery efforts following the devastating tornado that struck Joplin May 22, 2011. AmeriCorps members will also be recognized on the floor.

Buker, who served with Conservation Corps Minnesota, was one of 300 AmeriCorps members from across the country that deployed to Joplin following the tornado.

The resolution applauds the “history, goals and accomplishments associated with the AmeriCorps program and conveys to all of those involved this legislative body’s most heartfelt commendation of their efforts in Joplin and Duquesne following the devastating EF-5 tornado.”

“In a time of great need, AmeriCorps members came immediately and stayed for the long haul, providing vital support to the people of Joplin,” said Robert Velasco, acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, AmeriCorps parent agency. “The impact of AmeriCorps members like Buker is immeasurable to the community of Joplin, and is representative of the impact AmeriCorps members have on other critical challenges facing communities across the country.”

Buker served with an 11-person Conservation Corps crew, working alongside other AmeriCorps teams, including National Civilian Community Corps, AmeriCorps St. Louis, Washington Conservation Corps and Hoopa Tribal Civilian Community Corps. Crew members worked 14-hour days, many taking lead roles in overseeing as many as 2,000 volunteers in the field. Work involved search and rescue, managing volunteer intake, staffing the disaster response call center, helping disaster victims secure Electronic Benefit Transfer support from the city and coordinating volunteers citywide.

“We are fortunate to have folks serving who were willing to pack up on short notice to leave their lives behind for a month so they could do their best to make a positive contribution in the wake of a horrendous disaster,” said Anna Lipenga, northwest district manager for Conservation Corps Minnesota. “I know that every person who went to Joplin found it incredibly challenging, but also immensely rewarding. We appreciate their service.”

The Joplin tornado was the nation’s deadliest in more than 60 years, killing 161 residents and destroying more than 7,000 homes, churches, schools and businesses. Within eight hours, AmeriCorps members arrived in Joplin and began working with local authorities to establish a missing person’s hotline. Over the past seven months, AmeriCorps members have performed vital services including managing the volunteer reception center, providing homeowner assistance and casework, removing tons of debris and operating donation and distribution warehouses.

Members managed a large-scale volunteer operation that recruited, facilitated and supervised more than 60,600 volunteers who provided more than 579,000 hours of service valued at $17.7 million. AmeriCorps members and volunteers provided disaster assistance to more than 2,000 households and continue to provide services to the people of Joplin.

Buker is the son of David and Mavis Buker of Little Falls, is a 2004 graduate of Little Falls Community High School and a graduate of the University of Minnesota – Duluth with a degree in environmental studies and geography. He’s always had a heart for the outdoors,” said his father, David. “He got a job with AmeriCorps and it fits with Jerry. Because he had such heart for the environment and grew up along the Mississippi River here, it’s kind of like, ‘Yes, we have to protect and defend and make things right,’ so he was selected to go with the crew down to Joplin,” said David.

Buker spent a month in Joplin. “He said it took a couple of days to get acclimated and just to grasp the devastation and destruction,” said Buker’s mother, Mavis. He was in charge of coordinating the heavy equipment donated for use by individuals and businesses. His experience was limited, but he was chosen anyway. “The first day, during orientation at 6:30 a.m., they asked who had experience with heavy equipment. Jerry had driven a Bobcat and another had driven a tractor. The two of them were put in charge of coordinating the heavy equipment,” said Mavis.

After her son came back, she noticed he had changed a bit. “He just matured and came back self-assured and confident,” she said. “We’re so proud. He’s got such a good conscience.”