By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
---- — It started with a single tweet and the hashtag “765standup.”
Kokomo High School senior Tayler Persons had surveyed the tornado damage in Kokomo with his uncle Sunday. He knew it was bad. Devastating, really.
He also knew that school Monday was canceled — giving him the perfect opportunity to help his hometown out. His initial idea was to round up his teammates on the basketball team and head out to storm-ravaged areas to lend a hand.
Then he decided to expand his reach. This is something anyone could do.
He tweeted a single message Sunday night to his followers on Twitter.
It said, “Is anybody trying to meet at the high school tomorrow, and then drive to places to help cleanup? Let me know if you are! #765standup.”
He knew his message spread quickly through the social media site and he knew he had people interested in helping him. He figured about 40 people would meet him in the high school parking on Monday.
His estimate was a little off.
By noon Monday, about 250 teens from all across the county stood in the parking lot, bundled in hats, scarves, coats, gloves and boots. They were ready to work.
When Bridges Outreach co-founder Casey Cline showed up to give students their assignments for the day, he was just a little bit shocked.
“I wasn’t expecting this; I’ll say that,” he said. “I thought it was awesome they were using their day off school to help serve their community. These kids are putting others before themselves.”
They spent the afternoon sifting through rubble, picking up debris and cooking and serving meals to people who still had no electricity in their homes.
They were not alone. Throughout Howard County and even beyond, people were reaching out to help in any way they could.
Trinity United Methodist Church on Locke Street became the makeshift headquarters for the volunteers, said Jeff Newton, director of Kokomo Urban Outreach.
He estimated that more than 400 people had passed through the doors by 2 p.m. Monday.
A group of college students stopped by to help the children in Kokomo’s most affected neighborhoods. The volunteers played games with the kids and helped them with crafts to take their minds off the devastation, Newton said.
Some Chrysler employees showed up at the church to help serve lunch to families who had no power in their homes.
And hundreds of volunteers spent the day cleaning.
About 15 students from The Crossing picked up debris for four hours around Hoffer Street and Home Avenue.
It was a mess, Allyssa Pollock said.
They tried to pick up the big things — limbs, wood, insulation and tons and tons of shingles. But amid the trash, they also found remnants of people’s lives.
There were baby dolls and Christmas decorations.
Seeing all of that was too much for Pollock.
“I cried,” she said. “There was so much devastation.”
Kokomo High School Junior Joey Hurlocker said that devastation is what drove him to help Persons organize an army of volunteers.
“It’s important to help pick up the pieces for people who lost everything,” he said. “They really have nothing to work with. It’s going to be a long road ahead.”
As the afternoon drew to an end, volunteers went their separate ways.
Persons returned to Twitter where his campaign started and gave a shout out to everyone who came to help him. The support was amazing, he said.
He ended with a tweet that said, “Man I love my city! #765standup.”
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune Life & Style editor, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at firstname.lastname@example.org