Judge journeys to Joplin to lend a hand

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Judge Brian Oakley was prepared for the devastation he saw when he and 16 other volunteers arrived in Joplin eight days after a tornado devastated the city.

What he didn't expect was so much company.

''There were so many volunteers there -- which is awesome -- we were literally knocking on doors looking for people to help,'' said Oakley, 34th District judge in Romulus.

''I thought this would be a no-brainer -- there would be trees all over. But we had trouble finding work to do. We'd say, `We have 17 people down here with chain saws. Where do you need us?'''

Oakley was among the volunteers who drove to Joplin on Memorial Day weekend, and cut up 18 fallen trees, most of which had fallen and crushed buildings.

The trip was sponsored by Poured Out, a Christian charity mostly concerned with worldwide clean water supply, and Romulus Rotary.

A local business donated the fuel costs of the trip, and volunteers slept in a Methodist church those two nights in Joplin. Several churches were represented among the volunteers, who donated 386 volunteer hours.

''There's no begging, there's no long planning process,'' Oakley said of the way it all came together. ''It's just amazing.''

Oakley was impressed with the volunteers he met who had simply put some equipment in their vehicles and headed for Joplin.

One man was sitting in a parking lot with a banner that said: ''I sharpen chain saws for free.''

''I've never met anybody yet who was doing this stuff who wasn't doing it from the right place in their heart,'' he said. ''You might have a personality clash, but at the end of the day, this person is taking time out of their real life and there's nothing in it for them except that warm fuzzy feeling.''

Helping clean up natural disasters is nothing new to Oakley, who volunteered in Gulf Port, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina, volunteered twice in Honduras installing water filters, and another time in Haiti.

''I love it,'' said Oakley, ''I'm a strong believer in 'To much has been given, much is expected.' I feel blessed in my life. And on the Joplin trip, especially, I was called. There was no way I could not go to Joplin. It was such a powerful trip, I almost get giddy talking about it.''

Oakley believes communities rather than governments should take care of their needs, and he said time after time, he's impressed with the volunteers who move quickly in a crisis.

Recently, Oakley learned that a fellow judge offered to take on his docket so he could go back to Joplin on another Poured Out trip.

So he'll be heading back south, and is even more excited this time.

''If we get enough money, we're going to do a makeover on a house,'' said Oakley.

''I really want to be part of that. It's cool to go down there and cut trees and clear debris for homeowners. But to go down and make that kind of an impact on one family? I really hope that happens.''

Published: Thu, Jun 23, 2011