One of the most fortunate things to have happened to me in my 14 years as a classroom teacher was when Joplin voters approved a bond issue to build two middle schools and refurbish a third one.
I certainly didn't think that at the time. While I knew the modern facilities at East and South middle schools were far better than what the students had been used to, I loved the time I spent in the old South Middle School building and did not want to leave it.
Fortunately, the people came through, the district was realigned and because of that realignment, Laela Zaidi, who had been attending another middle school was moved to the new East Middle School and to my communication arts (English) class.
She did not need any instruction from me on how to write clearly and get her points across. Reading her work was always a joy and I became accustomed to thought- provoking papers from Laela throughout that inaugural year at East.
The work that Laela, who Monday will begin her junior year at Joplin High School, has done in the community since the tornado has been remarkable, and in an interview with CNN, a video on Al Jazeera's The Stream, and her posts on Reddit, her thoughtful depiction of the interfaith community of Joplin and how it has pulled together since a fire Monday morning destroyed the Joplin Islamic Community Mosque is the kind of leadership I wish we could see from the elected officials in Missouri and the nation. Laela has helped turn another negative for the community, one even worse since this one appears most likely to be manmade, into a chance for Joplin and the nation to shine.
It has been a long 15 months for Laela Zaidi and the Joplin community. Laela lost her home and school during the May 22, 2011, tornado, Just like other Joplin residents, she fought back after nature's fury struck this city, destroying one-third of it and killing 161, never entertaining the idea that the tornado would triumph. Joplin began its rebuilding process immediately.
We became accustomed to the praise of a nation because of the way we picked ourselves up and began the battle- not to build Joplin back the way it was, but to build an even better Joplin.
The praise, however, did not just belong to Joplin residents. In the 15 months since the tornado, the city has become a destination for those who wanted to help. No one checked those who came and turned people away because of their color, their sexual persuasion, or their religious beliefs.
If people came ready to work and contribute, they were welcomed with open arms.
One church after another has sent busloads of volunteers here on mission trips, offering inspiration to the people of Joplin, at the same time the people of Joplin were serving as an inspiration to them.
Just like other places that have battled through natural disasters, we have learned many lessons along the way. Tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis- nothing nature throws at us can destroy the triumphant nature of the human heart.
Nor, sad to say, can these disasters tear away the plaque from the souls of those who would loot a home destroyed by a tornado, or those who would take pleasure in destroying a place of worship.
The darkness in which they perform their evil is matched only by the darkness in their souls.
After the fire, Joplin Islamic Society officials determined that a quarter of a million dollars was needed to rebuild the mosque. A website was established for those who wanted to give and in less than three days that money had been raised and much more. At this writing, a total of $313,808 has been raised and the drive still has six weeks to go.
Just as in the case of the Joplin Tornado, this latest Joplin story has also turned into a tale of triumpth, thanks to Laela Zaidi and the thousands of people in this community and around the world who did not stand idly by and let evil triumph.
Those wishing to donate to the rebuilding of the Joplin Mosque can do so at this link.