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Finding appreciation and camaraderie in times of crisis

By Toni Bean
On March 5, 2014

Have you ever seen hundreds of people ban together for a single cause up close and personal?
I have, and I am truly honored to share my story with you today.
Two years ago, my community faced the worst tragedy I had ever seen in my 17 years of life.
On March 2, 2012, the tornado sirens rang, and the pagers blurred the news that still haunts me today.
A tornado touched down just a mile away from my house.
That Friday morning was not unlike any other day. The sun was shining, the doors to our home were wide open and I was surrounded by family.
However, what was different was the feeling in the air.
We all knew something very bad was going to happen.
In fact, my brother and one of the older men at the fire department had called me and asked if I would watch their kids, if the storm did come.
Although I was with the fire department just like the rest of my family, I knew I could not deny the request to watch the children.
Looking back now, I am so glad I didn't go out with the rest of the fire department that night.
My parents, my brothers and the rest of the department left around 5 p.m., when the funnel cloud started to form outside our front porch and the sirens began to blare.
When they were gone that left my best friend and me.
We were both 16 at the time, with five children to baby-sit.
All of them were under 5.
By the time the thunder began to roar and it was pitch black dark outside, the power had gone out.
Therefore, the only thing we had was a laptop, one candle, two half-dead phones and each other.
Yes, I was scared to death, but I couldn't show my fear, because I had to be strong for the five crying children in my arms, as well as my best friend who was on the verge of tears herself.
We tried to call out several times without success.
What we didn't know at the time was that a tornado had ripped through the entire community.
However, when our service finally did return I was not prepared for the phone call I received.
I remember ever so vividly my mom calling me.
She was shouting, and I couldn't really understand what she was saying. What I did make out of our conversation though was this:
"I am in the war zone."
That statement did not make sense to me until the next day when I finally went outside.
What my mom had called the "war zone" the night before was a mile past my house at the end of the road.
There was a house completely gone, trees leveled, and even a car that once held a mother and her children was flipped upside down.
Over the next few days, I found out what the word community really meant.
It means family, togetherness and putting your neighbor before yourself.
People came from as far as Kentucky, which is about a three-hour drive, to help out the small rural community of Dodson Branch.
Not only did others volunteer their time, but business and even individuals also donated items such as food, clothes and building material
If we needed it, we had it.
Although those outside the community touched my heart, it was an older gentleman whom I had never met that really pulled at my heartstrings.
He had retired to the community that truly pulled at my heartstrings. He told us that he had no insurance whatsoever.
He could have stood in front of us and said, "What am I going to do? My house is completely gone."
The words that came from that blessing of a man's mouth were something quite remarkable.
"I know the fire department does a door to door fundraiser every year, and I know it should have started today," he said.
"I appreciate everything you all do for the community, and I try to give as much as possible every year."
What happened next, none of us could believe.
The man reached into his pocket, pulled out a hundred dollar bill, and placed it in my mother's hand.
We then explained to him we weren't standing in his driveway fundraising for our fire department, but rather to help him any way we could.
What he said next, I will never forget as long as I live.
Instead of taking the money back, he said, "I don't have insurance, like you already know, but I do have money in the bank, clothes on my back, my wife and my pets.
"People need this money way more than I do, so please won't you take it?"
In awe of what had just happened my mom and I just began to bawl our eyes out. I mean, what can you say to something like that?
Come March 4, a lot of progress had been made toward the clean-up thanks to volunteers from all walks of life.
So we began to assign people to areas instead of just letting them go whenever they saw fit.
My assignment became the man's house who had given us the money.
You see, a lot of people did not understand why I was still picking up rubble on this day, considering it was my birthday.
However, that was the best birthday I have had yet!
So, here's the moral of my story:
If you are fortunate enough to experience something like this in your lifetime, and yes I said fortunate enough, take advantage of it!
Realize the miracle that is unfolding right before your eyes!
Before the tornado, I was disgusted with my community, and was ready to leave it forever.
But after that the tragedy that rocked the Dodson Branch community on March 2, 2012, I will never again take the place I call home for granted.
I hope you can say that about your home, and if you can't, I hope you get the privilege to experience an event similar to my own.

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