The Good List

(page 4 of 6)

The Philanthropists: David, Debra and Rebecca Humphreys

Lifelong Joplin resident David Humphreys NEVER imagined that he’d be pulling people out of homes minutes after an EF-5 tornado swept through his hometown.

But then again, not everything turns out like you expect it to.

David is the president and CEO of TAMKO, a nationwide building supply company that is headquartered in Joplin. On May 22, he was over at his mother’s house when the tornado hit. His wife, Debra, and daughter, Rebecca, were at home.

After the tornado, David set out to check on Debra and Rebecca. However, he didn’t get far before he passed people needing help. David decided to stop and see what he could do. He says he spent the next several hours helping pull people out of the rubble and wrecked homes, and he offered up his Suburban so a colleague could help shuttle people to wherever they needed to go. Late that evening, he made it home without any shoes and with a nail in his foot because he had given away the pair of shoes he was wearing to a man who didn’t have any.

Within two days after the tornado, the couple gave $1 million to the local chapter of the Red Cross, something that received a great deal of attention from the local media.

“We really felt like it was important to do it quickly, and unlike most of our philanthropy, to do it publicly,” says Debra. It was the couple’s hope that the donation would spur other donations.

Not to be outdone by her parents, Rebecca Humphreys tried to volunteer in numerous capacities after the tornado. However, she found it difficult to find a place where a 16-year-old could really do much of consequence. That’s when she decided to do something new. The high-school senior founded A Tree Grows in Joplin to help populate the city’s now-empty landscapes.

“I thought the name was kind of symbolic,” says Rebecca. “It’s really about growing up and moving forward.”
Rebecca found the project garnered virtually instant success, and it blew her goal of 500 trees out of the water.

“Now we’re up to 4,000,” says Rebecca.

In addition to Rebecca’s tree-planting efforts and the family’s gift to the Red Cross, the Humphreys also decided to aid the Salvation Army. Based on her time spent on the board of directors in the past, Debra felt that a check was the best way to help.
“I know from experience that they’ll get a lot of clothes, they’ll get a lot of food, they’ll get a lot of those things,” says Debra. “Some of them are useful and some of them aren’t. But if you give them money, they can allocate their resources the way they need to.”

In the following weeks, the Humphreys also pledged $250,000 for Joplin’s public school system, as well as another $250,000 as a matching grant. They felt that public education was crucial to Joplin’s rebuilding.

In addition to their donations to organizations, the Humphreys found themselves faced with some aftershocks for TAMKO. The company had already faced challenges earlier in the year after its Tusclaoosa plant was affected by a tornado in April. According to David, nearly 30 of the business’s employees lost their homes, and many more lost items such as cars. One of the first things he did after the storm was to figure out exactly which employees were hit. Since insurance money wasn’t going to be available for the foreseeable future, David had the company step in and pick up some of the slack.   

“You know these folks are going to be strapped,” says David. “These are expenses they never expected.”
After figuring out set amounts for losses for things such as homes and vehicles, the company ended up giving out $1.2–1.3 million to employees.

But the family’s efforts don’t just stay in the financial arena. The family currently has three tornado victims living with them and has let another family live in a house they own across town.

The Dependable Mr. Fix-it: Shawn Gott

At various times, Shawn Gott has toyed with the idea of becoming an elementary school teacher.
Right now, however, he’s using his time to make a difference in other ways. The 41-year-old father of three has been volunteering for Springfield’s children and youth for 16 years, currently serving weekly at Isabel’s House and the Ronald McDonald House.

Isabel’s House is a haven of sorts for children age 12 and younger. The reasons children stay at the facility vary, and include things like single parental issues and other less-than-fortunate circumstances, such as unsafe home situations.  
Gott says he’s fortunate that his career in property management allows him the flexibility to volunteer during typical work hours. Right now, he puts in four hours every Tuesday morning at Isabel’s House and finishes the day from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Ronald McDonald House. He also points out, however, that anyone can do it if they make it a priority.  

“Anybody can do three hours,” says Gott. “Just put it in your schedule and do it.”

What he does for these organizations varies depending on the day. Sometimes he’s playing with the kids, doing things such as riding bikes, playing ball, drawing with chalk, and even taking field trips. “That’s very satisfying for me,” says Gott. “I feel like a lot of these kids don’t go a lot of places.”

On other days, however, he’s doing things such as painting, fixing doors, or even repairing the ice machine and other appliances.
Over the years, Gott has learned a thing or two about dealing with kids, beginning with dependability.

“Even though I might not be good at it, I’m there,” says Gott, who points out that simply being there is a huge deal for kids who have little stability in their lives.  

The kids aren’t the only ones who have benefited from Gott’s volunteering. He says he has also gained a great deal from his time spent in the field.

“I learn too, in these situations and places like Isabel’s House, how to be a better parent, because they’re constantly tweaking and looking at themselves,” says Gott.

Through the years, Gott has been careful to not attach his business life with his volunteering. For him, that’s not what it’s about: It’s about making a difference for the kids. That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t get anything out of it.

“I don’t really know if that’s a calling or what, but I think that’s what I was meant to do,” says Gott.

The Director: Mary Ann Lengyel

In Nicaragua, education is a privilege. It’s not unusual for children to barely finish elementary school, let alone get any further education.

According to Mary Ann Lengyel, a 417-land resident and director of La Esperanza preschool in Nicaragua, preschools are especially rare in that part of the world. There’s also a different attitude toward the role of mothers in early childhood development. Mothers generally don’t view themselves as teachers. “Kids just start school with whatever basic knowledge that they have,” says Lengyel. All those factors combined make Lengyel’s role especially crucial.

Lengyel has been with the preschool for more than nine years. The school works through Project H.O.P.E., a Springfield-based non-profit Christian ministry, and Fellowship Bible Church. When Lengyel first saw slides of the school in church one Sunday morning, she really didn’t anticipate getting quite this involved. She just knew that she had to do something, and she began with a trip to Nicaragua just to see what it was really like.

“That’s all it took, and I was hooked,” says Lengyel, who agreed to assume the position of director after being asked by Project H.O.P.E. director Kim Bradley.

Lengyel’s job as director encompasses various roles, but her main focus is connecting sponsors in the United States with kids in Nicaragua. A $30-per-month sponsorship covers all of a child’s educational expenses, a birthday gift, vitamins, shoes, the staff’s salary, emergency medical expenses, a Christmas present, a uniform and a hot meal every day.

Those things, which sound very basic to a North American way of thinking, are actually very important in the Nicaraguan society. “The preschool is very valuable, and it’s considered a great honor,” says Lengyel. “It’s just a giant stepping stone.”
The preschool has grown since Lengyel took over, and it now has a capacity of 52 students (ages 4 to 5); that number bumps to 66 in January. Two teachers currently work with two classes of students. However, an expansion is currently underway to add a third classroom, playground equipment and a small library. According to Lengyel, the majority of kids come from the village of Monte Oscuro, but others come from out of the woodwork to attend classes. Or, in some cases, literally out of the woods. “No cell phones, but the word just gets out,” says Lengyel.

Even the teachers go the extra mile to make the preschool a success. “One teacher walks about 2 miles to get to school, and one has a bicycle,” says Lengyel. “Think Little House on the Prairie.”

Lengyel says that most of the students participate for both years. At the end of the second year, a graduation ceremony is held for the outgoing students—which is a big deal for the participants. Several of the families wanted to purchase the cap and gown to keep as a memento.

Even after eight years, Lengyel is still surprised by other things that aren’t all that different between cultures. A bilingual team of clinicians interviewed the students’ parents about what they thought their kids were getting out of the preschool. Their answers included typical things such as learning their numbers and letters. But then Lengyel asked what their hopes were for their children’s futures. Many of those answers gave the indication that whatever their child wanted to be, they would be really good at.

“Almost every one of them had a particular career in mind: Engineers, lots of doctors, firemen, teachers,” says Lengyel. “They have hopes and dreams just like every parent for their child.”

She says that providing resources give people a leg up on an opportunity for better education. “Help educate themselves out of poverty,” says Lengyel “That’s the key.”

In addition to the preschool, Lengyel is also involved in other ways. She started a children’s library nearby, which now has more than 2,000 books available for the preschool students.

The newest project she’s been involved with is beginning a gardening program. The program allows the students to learn as well as to have fresh vegetables to eat.

In retrospect, Lengyel says she’s happy about the role she’s been able to play for the preschool, and she hopes to do more in the coming years. “To me, the sky is the limit,” says Lengyel. “I’ve seen the little glimmer of hope that the school has brought to them.”

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