Mercury COO Returns to Joplin

By Amber Cox, Mercury COO
Posted: July 12, 2011

I am a product of the Midwest. I grew up in a town of 6,000 in Southwest Missouri called Monett. Joplin..."the big city"... is located about 25 miles from Monett. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in Joplin, which served as the home base for my AAU team during my high school years.

My mom and her husband moved to Joplin a few years ago, taking up residency on a beautiful farm a few miles outside of town, with lots of giant trees and a big field to hold their horses. When I return home, what I love more than anything is the foliage. The old trees that stand so tall and mighty and this time of year, are filled with gorgeous green leaves.

On May 22, a good portion of Joplin was leveled by one of the largest tornados in history. I received a text from my mom about the time news broke of the massive storm...about 3:30 p.m. Phoenix time. Her text read something about a truck being overturned, but was jumbled (she's not the best texter in the first place), so I texted back for clarification. No response. Then a phone call. Straight to voicemail. By this time, the horrific images were on every news channel and all over social media. Of course I was frantic.

After four hours, the phone finally rang. On the other end was my mom, standing in what sounded like a war zone. For three hours, she had been at a major intersection in Joplin, directing traffic. I could feel the tension in her voice. We didn't stay on the line long, but I knew she was safe, which was all that mattered. About ten minutes later, a text followed that simply read, "Our town is gone."

I returned to Joplin last week. The Mercury was scheduled for a Friday night game in Tulsa, so I left a day early to assist my mom and her company in a volunteer day at a local church.

I've heard many people say that seeing the destruction on tv is far different than seeing it in person, so I was mentally preparing myself to witness the storm-battered area for the first time. The best way to describe it is a war zone, even though over a month has passed! Mom indicated that a lot of the debris had been cleared, but there was still so much left to take away. I learned that there is two times the amount of debris in Joplin than when the Twin Towers fell in New York. Absolutely astonishing.

Two things really struck me about what I saw. One, the trees that I love so much...BIG, old, strong trees...snapped in half and the bark ripped from the trunks and limbs. (Not to mention giant billboard poles that were bent in half!) That's a true indication of the force of the storm.

Second, all the "stuff," including cars, couches, clothes and personal belongings that before the storm, were probably so important to the people who owned them and now remained untouched after a month. It's a good reminder of what's important in life. I'm sure before the storm, the folks of Joplin put a lot of stock in those "things" like all of us do. And now, as those things sit in vacant fields and lots where homes used to be, it's obvious of the unfortunate and life-changing perspective that was provided on May 22.

We made our way through Joplin - I was speechless most of the time - and as we turned down the road to head to my Mom's house, it was alarming to see just how close the storm had come to her house. Right across the street, a convenience store had lost its roof (which has already been replaced) and a home had lost its roof with trees in pieces all around.

Mom and I, along with several of her co-workers, spent last Thursday at a local church outside Joplin. The parking lot was set-up like a grocery store, with a long row of tents that contained everything from food items to flashlights to dog food. Those in need were able to come through the tents and grab whatever they needed. It was such an incredible experience to be able to hand over the items, free of charge, thanks to the generous donations of companies and individuals from across the country.

One thing that struck me was the number of out-of-state volunteers. A church from Louisiana had 10 volunteers on hand. Several people were from Kansas City. A group of people from Springfield, Ill. drove down that day to drop off a load of things that had been collected in a drive at their church. People from across the country are chipping in.

I'm an extremely proud Midwesterner and the resolve of the people in Joplin is an example of why. The folks (yes, I said “folks”) from the heart of our country possess a work ethic like none other and more importantly, a kinship that bonds neighbors together in times of need. Every person in that community is giving something to help - a dump truck to clear debris, a bed to sleep in, money - whatever needs to be done, will be done.

And I was also proud to be a part of this great organization and aligned with our partner Grand Canyon University. GCU acted immediately and allowed us to be involved in their campaign to collect items that members of their staff then drove to Joplin. The media support was incredible and as always, members of the Mercury and Suns fan base came to the rescue on short notice, helping us collect piles and piles of items.

It was rewarding to share a volunteer day with my mom and give back to a community that's given me so much. I have no doubt Joplin will persevere and come back stronger than ever.