With Purpose: Eye of the Storm

The scene of the Joplin, Mo. tornado's aftermath on May 22 was one of total devastation. Whole neighborhoods left in piles of rubble, an entire hospital demolished. We all saw the coverage on television, but as the country watched from afar, one Tri Delta sister was in the midst of the destruction, offering help to people during the time they most needed it.

Rev. Cassie Tritthart, Westminster, grew up 20 minutes from Joplin. She attended Westminster College where she majored in philosophy and religious studies. After graduation she attended seminary school at Liberty University where she received her master's degree. She worked as a pastoral counselor in Joplin for three years. Though she no longer lives in Joplin, when the tornado hit she was at her parents' house — out of harm's way, but close enough to answer the call for assistance.

"One of my sorority sisters is a firefighter in Jay, Okla., and initially told me about the tornado that hit the Grand Lake, Okla., area about an hour from Joplin," Cassie says. She arrived on the scene to find they needed help pulling people out of the lake, but only a short while later, she received the news that another tornado had touched down in Joplin. Initially, she feared for her mother's safety — Cassie's mom had been at the Macy's there when the storm hit. "I finally got through to her by cell phone and tried to notify as many people as we could that she was ok," Cassie remembers. The cell lines were mostly down, so she relied on Facebook and email to contact people. Cassie knew her help was needed once again, so she made her way into town only two hours after the tornado had left its mark. The scene was shocking. "There were people covered with debris, people with broken bones walking down the street to try to get to the hospital. What they didn't realize was that the hospital was gone." People were everywhere, and the town itself was nearly unrecognizable. "The tornado knocked out all the street signs and landmarks," Cassie says. "You could be driving along thinking you're at one place, but you might be several blocks from there." She says that as far as volunteering to help, it was "whatever you could do." One friend's father was the manager of a Wal-Mart outside of Joplin. When he heard what happened he got a truck and filled it with supplies from his store to take to the people. While the immediate help was vital, in the days and weeks following the natural disaster, people still needed help with coping. That's where Cassie really stepped in. "I did crisis counseling, mostly with kids. I worked with anyone from four years old to college age." Cassie explains that her background in pastoral counseling allowed her to help those who may not have been able to go to regular counseling because there were some experiences they just couldn't explain. For instance, she says, there was one four-year-old who had been in the direct path of the storm. The twister had picked him up and dropped him two blocks from his house. When his dad found him, the child was perfectly fine — no bruises, no scratches. Cassie says, "When his dad asked him how he had ended up there, the boy said 'An angel took me and dropped me.'" She further explains, "People had a difficult time coping with why those who had taken all the necessary precautions were gone, but some who were in the middle of harm's way had survived." While the majority of her work was done immediately after the tornado, she still receives the occasional call from people who need to talk. And as Cassie works to help rebuild the people of Joplin, there are volunteers who are still working every day to help rebuild the town.

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