, Newburyport, MA


March 15, 2012

Shea Van Hoy: The resiliency of small-town America

The violent tornadoes that struck our part of Indiana earlier this month tore apart homes, churches, schools and devastated families in small town America.

It's the type of tragedy that can tear a community apart with physical and emotional damage.

But there's a resilient spirit in rural communities. Tiny towns like Henryville (1,900 population) and Marysville (1,800) in southern Indiana are built to come together and survive horrific natural disasters.

We've already seen examples and heard stories of strangers assisting storm victims pick up the pieces of their homes and lives; help offered to the affected areas from nearby communities; and volunteers coming from around the United States to towns they have never heard of.

More than that, it is neighbors helping neighbors. That's why most people who choose to live in a small town do so in the first place. There's a sense of closeness and caring that makes people comfortable. It lets them know that no matter what happens, things are going to be OK.

It's hard to see now, but things will be OK.

I grew up in a town not much larger than Henryville. There are many times when everybody knowing everybody is an annoyance. Privacy isn't an option.

But familiarity also breeds compassion. The neighborhood children become your surrogate kids. The older residents in the town become like grandparents to all.

That kind of kinship will be essential over the coming weeks and years as the small towns affected by the tornadoes try to recover. People will lean on each other so they can collectively make it through this tragedy.

In an unincorporated town like Henryville, the public schools are the center of attention, the community's identity. They now also become a touchstone for healing.

Henryville Junior-Senior High School and Elementary School were destroyed by a tornado with winds up to 175 mph and they will be rebuilt. Until that time, teachers, administrators, parents and students will make sure the learning continues in temporary classrooms.

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