MANATEE -- When Shawn Carr left for Joplin, Mo. he had two goals in mind: help clean up the debris left from the May 22 tornado and make five people smile.
He and nine friends returned Tuesday having met both goals while volunteering with a nonprofit group.
“I made five people smile,” said Carr, 21, who spent two days in Joplin cleaning up. “The first person was a lady who came up to us and asked if we were volunteers. She was thankful.”
The rest of the smiles came from others who also were happy to see volunteers in the area.
“I would go to a fast-food restaurant and I’d have my shirt on that said “volunteer” and people would say thank you,” said Gerald Goldsmith, 19, a friend of Carr’s. “I felt like it was doing a good thing.”
Carr used Facebook to encourage his friends to take the trip with him and updated his Facebook status after the storm to say:
“Anyone wanna to go with me to Joplin, Mo.? I want to help out as much as I can, anyone that wants to go let me know.”
He then wrote on their pages and pushed the idea, which is how he got Goldsmith to agree to come.
Carr said he felt going on the trip was a calling from God.
The death toll was 153 people, according to the latest reports. And even though he and his friends had seen the images on TV and the Internet, it didn’t prepare them for seeing it in person.
“I got goose bumps when I first saw it,” Carr said. “We didn’t think it would be that bad. It looked like an atomic bomb went through that town.”
Goldsmith said he was shocked when he first saw the devastation.
“We were cleaning up in basically Ground Zero,” Goldsmith said. “It was more devastating than I thought it would be.”
Carr said roadways have been cleared and are mostly drivable and power lines are up but materials that has been cleared do line the streets.
“About 80 percent of the town looks like it hasn’t been cleaned up,” he said. “Volunteers can only do so much. I wish I could be over there and do more. But unfortunately, I can’t.”
As they worked on the clean up, local residents shared their stories of survival with them.
“One survivor told me they stayed in a freezer in the back of a deli during the tornado,” Goldsmith said.
About $800 was donated to Carr to help fund the trip from people who’d heard about it in the media.
“I wanted to stay for an extra day but we had zero dollars left at the end,” he said. Carr said he is thankful for the support and used the money to pay for gas and food.
The lesson he learned from the experience was how to appreciate things around him, he said.
“Don’t take anything for granted, it could be there one second and the next, everything could be gone,” Carr said. “The people we talked to were thankful we were there. People were trying to get back on their feet. They can’t push a rewind button, they can only move on.”
Now that he is back in Bradenton, Carr plans on starting school at State College of Florida in the next few weeks and vacationing with his family.
But even as life returns to normal for him, he says, “I won’t forget about Joplin.”