Following the May 2007 tornado that destroyed nearly 90 percent of homes in the center of town, a number of organizations flocked to Greensburg to offer hope and assistance. The New York Says Thank You Organization (NYSTY), a national 9/11 memorial group, came to assist in the clean up and community rebuilding and founded "Stars of Hope."
The Stars of Hope, which began as an inspirational community activity placing hand painted stars on street corners in Greensburg, has brought the program to other disaster areas. Greensburg has been an integral part of the project, making and painting stars for other communities since its inception in 2008.
Last Saturday area volunteers spent all day painting nearly 1,000 stars in the community building.
The stars were destined for hard-hit areas of New York and New Jersey, still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.
"When we were hit in 2007 we were amazed that people from New York would help us," said Kiowa County Freshman McKenzie Heft. "Now it's kind of flip-flopped and we're able to help them. There might be a perception that a small town in western Kansas wouldn't worry about people in New York, but we do. They helped us, so it's our duty to help them."
Heft, who helped organize the event, has been involved with the "Stars" project since 2008 when she, along with all of the other Greensburg school students, painted a star to place on a street corner in town.
"The first star I made was yellow. It was hard to decide what to put on it at first. I was really young then but I wrote, "inspire" on it in purple. That word meant a lot to me because it was inspiration that got people to rebuild."
The stars were placed randomly amongst the damaged houses, but Heft said she put her star on a corner of a very special lot.
"My star went on the corner of Bay Street and Lincoln Street and that was the corner where my great-grandmother lived. That was kind of cool."
Heft was also interviewed for a NYSTY film and spent time this year volunteering for "Annie's House," a ski lodge built in Bottineau, Nd.
Annie's House is a ski-lodge built to accommodate military veterans and disabled children. It was built in memorial to Annie Nelson, a North Dakota native and bond trader who died on Sept. 11, 2000 at the World Trade Center in New York.
"It's changed my life," said Heft. "It's made me a better person and it's really changed my life."
Volunteers painted inspirational messages on about 50 of the 1,000 stars made from wood donated by Lloyd Goossen of Goossen Woodwork. The remaining stars will be painted by children and families in effected areas.
Page 2 of 2 - Many of the stars are still destined for neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey, but some stars may be diverted and sent to families in Newtown, Conn. in light of the tragic school shooting last Friday, said NYSTY Chairman Jeff Parness.
"Some of the communities that were hit by Hurricane Sandy, many which were part of Stars of Hope, have already gone up to Newtown to lend support," he said on Tuesday. "I am certain that some of the Greensburg stars will end up there."
This first appeared in the Dec. 19, 2012 print edition of The Kiowa County Signal.