The volunteers worked with Stars of HOPE, a joint project between the New York Says Thank You Foundation and Groesbeck Rebuilds America, that lets people write messages of goodwill on wooden stars to be sent to places struck by disaster.
It’s a “unique art project to bring hope and inspiration to the children of disaster stricken communities as well as to their families, friends and neighbors,” according to the organization’s website.
Marcelle Robustelli-Strong, Stars of HOPE project coordinator from Canton, said she became involved after Hurricane Sandy hit in New Jersey.
“A number of us here in the Canton area that felt like we wanted to get involved,” she said. “And we had been introduced to Stars of HOPE on a project we worked on in Ellijay. We contacted the organization and asked what we could do to help. I work at Home Depot and we did a donation of plywood and paint.”
Robustelli-Strong said many disaster-relief organizations, such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army help with resources, but there’s also a need for the human spirit to feel uplifted.
“We go into areas that have been affected by a natural disaster or tragedy and bring comfort and hope to people in the time when they most need it,” she said. “We try to bring a little peace in a time when there’s so much chaos going on.”
Robustelli-Strong said she has been to a number of disaster-affected areas, but her recent trip to Louisville was the closest she has ever been to the tragedy date.
For this project, she asked Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood to write a message on a star to deliver to the community.
“I was very happy to help, so I went to the booth where they had stars cut out, took a yellow star and wrote a message to the mayor and citizens to wish them well and a speedy recovery from the damage they had,” Hobgood said. “It was basically one city reaching out to another and expressing sympathy.”
Hobgood said it is a great way for people to show they are concerned and care about another city’s situation.
“It’s a simple matter of expression, but it can certainly have some meaning to the citizens that are affected,” he said.
Pat Samuels, Stars of HOPE project manager, said he created the project as a way to “pay it forward” after his town of Groesbeck, Texas, was affected by a deadly tornado.
“In 2006, a tornado came through our town,” he said. “My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were taking care of an assisted living home for disabled veterans and one of the homes was damaged in the storm. An organization called New York Says Thank You came down and offered to help. We were so impressed, so in awe and so honored by the outpouring of kindness from people we didn’t know, people from all over the county, people that spoke differently. We kept asking how we could pay it back.”
Then, in May 2007, a tornado ripped through Greensburg, Kansas, and took at least 11 lives.
“We wanted to help these people, so we came up with the idea that we would cut stars out of plywood and paint them a bright color and let kids write messages of hope,” Samuels said. “Those stars stayed there for over a year while the town was rebuilding.”
Samuels said since December 2007, Stars of HOPE has placed more than 28,000 stars in 12 different states, 41 different communities and three foreign countries. The organization, with now more than 100 volunteers, has spread out across the country. It completed 13 projects in 2013.
He said when disasters happen, people often wonder how they are going to make ends meet and how they are going to rebuild their lives, but often their emotional needs are not met and the emotional concerns of children are pushed into a corner.
“So we go into schools that were most affected by the disaster and have the children write messages so that they have a hand in instilling hope into the community,” Samuels said.
He said he is especially thankful to the city of Canton volunteers and its Home Depot for all of the support and resources donated to the organization.