It’s been a year since I’ve had a Vanelli’s pizza or filled up at the Sprint Mart at the corner of North Gloster and North Green.

We’re sitting at the one-year anniversary of the day an EF-3 tornado changed Tupelo’s landscape forever.

One thing I was struck by, in the immediate aftermath of the recovery, were the opportunities Mabus Agency had to help. There were traditional debris removal, repair and cleanup opportunities. There were also opportunities that used our skill in web development and video production.

I was working for the Daily Journal at the time when Josh called to tell me about a website his web team developed the morning after the tornado — TupeloStrong.com.

Josh said he stayed up the night of the tornado thinking about all those who needed help and who wanted to help, but had no way to connect. Facebook was an obvious answer, but the helper and one being helped had to know one another in advance. Early the next morning, the idea hatched: a centralized need-fulfillment portal based on sharing economy sites.

Within three days of the tornado, more than 11,000 visitors from 49 states pledged to send prayers, money and even local help. Dozens upon dozens of needs were fulfilled which wouldn’t have been connected otherwise.

We were connecting people from near and far with very real needs in our community and using our professional expertise to make the connections.

You can read more about the Lowe’s Heroes here.

We learned of another opportunity when we were contacted by Rescue One, a disaster response team sponsored by Lowe’s. The team was on the ground pretty quickly and needed a production team to help spread the word. It was flattering when a national brand called on us, and it was an honor to be able to put our technical expertise to use in such a meaningful way.

Everywhere I looked in the days following the tornado I was overwhelmed by the community’s response to the disaster. The streets were lined with people cutting fallen trees and hauling debris.

I have watched the community of Tupelo grow stronger and closer over the past year. I’ve seen a replanting of the Tupelo Spirit — the ideal that attracts me to this community. It’s an ideal, a mantra and a duty. Tupelo residents are expected to help out, pitch in, keep their head high and keep their eyes forward. We are taught to band together instead of waiting for another community or state leader to help us.

This isn’t just the anniversary of the tornado, it’s also been one year since we learned what we are capable of as a community.

It’s miraculous how quickly our city has rebuilt. It’s also miraculous to see how much we can accomplish in such a short period of time when we work together.

At this anniversary, let’s remember those who experience loss, but let’s also remember our ability to affect change when we band together. Let’s not wait for another disaster to do a great good as a community. Let’s move our conversation from “rebuilding” to “building” and make sure that the strength of Tupelo isn’t only used in the face of adversity.

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