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Youth Inspires Family Vacation for Tornado Disaster Relief

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Joan Brunwasser: My guest today is India Mussell-McKay. Welcome to OpEdNews. I understand you have something different planned for your upcoming vacation. Can you tell us something about it?

India Mussell-McKay: Hey, Joan! Yes, actually this year's family vacation is going to be quite different than years past. We are heading to Joplin, Mo. to help with debris cleanup and to work with families affected by the tornado that hit on May 22. This tragedy was the deadliest single tornado in 60 years, killing 155 people, leaving 5,000 people homeless, and destroying over 30 percent of the city. A friend of mine, Jamey Johnston, went down in June, and after reading his journals and seeing the pictures of how devastated the area was, I knew I wanted to get involved. I shared my interest in going down with my family, and next thing I knew, it turned into a family project. I'm excited to be going down with my mom, dad, 17-year-old brother, my cousi, and my friend Jamey, who is returning to Joplin for a second time.

[See copies of his journals and pictures on www.helpushelpjoplin.org.]

Joan: Good for you! Tell us more, India. How long will you go for? Is there any place to stay while you're down there?

India: We are going down to Joplin on July 5 and coming back to Chicago on the 9th. Luckily, Jamey had booked a room in advance because, right now, most of the hotels in the area are filled up with displaced families who are waiting for FEMA trailers or have nowhere else to go. Other families who have been displaced are staying on cots in the gymnasiums of the schools that weren't destroyed in the tornado.

Joan: Your mom mentioned that you're collecting stuff to take down with you. What do people most need?

India: Most of the things people still need down there are gas cards; new bedding; kids' books and toys; kitchen accessories like dishware, pots and pans; small appliances; things of that nature. That's another reason we are taking money donations, so the larger items that would be too hard to transport we can still purchase down in Joplin to give to the families in need.

Joan: Does your family often do this kind of working vacation? How did you enlist them for your project?

India: This is actually the first trip of its kind that our family is doing. I just got so inspired seeing Jamey and his friend Erin's work in Joplin, and knew I had to do something. I am that girl who always watched "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (usually with my mom), and wished we could be a part of something like that. Being able to help people so directly and really make an impact on someone's life is something I think is an extremely valuable experience. We are just excited to be able to help in any way possible.

Joan: What do you do when you're not heading off to do good, India?

India: I am a 22-year-old interior design student at Harrington College of Design. I also waitress at the Celtic Knot Pub in Evanston, which my parents are partners at. When I am not working, I like to spend time with my friends, enjoy exploring the city, go to concerts and do Zumba (a Latin-hip-hop-infused aerobic dance class).

Joan: Your mom made an announcement at Zumba last week about your upcoming trip. Have you always been so involved in community service, India?

India: When I was a lot younger, I remember going to a soup kitchen and helping out once or twice, and last month, I started training to volunteer at PAWS animal shelter in Lincoln Park. But honestly I haven't been extremely involved in the past. This was just one of those causes that jumped out at me and really struck a chord. I hope after this Joplin trip that I might be able to dedicate more of my time to causes that really need it because in this day and age, there are so many ways that we as individuals can all help and make a difference!

Joan: You are so right! You and Jamey set up a website to tell about what's going on down there and to encourage people to pitch in. What kind of response are you getting?

India: Jamey and I set up the website so we could have somewhere to share all this information with everyone. It's also the platform for our donation website. Friends, family and customers alike have all been very supportive, from donations of bedding and shoes and small appliances, to raising over $1,600 for Joplin. It's also my hope that as I document our trip and post it to the website, people can follow our journey and see really where all the hard work and donations are going to.

Joan: Thanks so much for talking with me, India. Have a great time; we'll follow your trip with great interest!

Check out India's website, Help Us Help Joplin, at helpushelpjoplin.org.

A version of this post originally appeared at opednews.com.