Persons of the Year: Neighbors After the Storm

A resilient community responds to tornado with generosity, caring

When an EF3 tornado hit North Dallas and tore through Preston Hollow on Oct. 20, it was neighbors and first responders who came running. The assistance was practical – places to sleep, clearing debris, helping elementary schools forced to teach in a field house because their schools were damaged.

Dallas is a city full of extraordinary people, and we’ve honored many of them over the years as our Person of the Year. This year, we’re honoring those neighbors that stepped up to help.

For Dallas city council member Jennifer Gates, the resilience and the neighborly reactions from the community were a bright spot during the devastation.

“Witnessing neighbors helping neighbors immediately after the tornado was heartwarming. Instantly, neighbors were checking on each other and providing help and assistance,” she said. “I heard stories from taking neighbors in for overnight shelter to strangers providing rides when they found themselves stranded at demolished shopping centers and discovering their vehicles totaled.

‘In those first few days post-storm, I saw the best of people and the strength of our community.”

“Instantly, neighbors were checking on each other and providing help and assistance.” – Jennifer Gates

One word was repeated often by city leaders when we asked about their impressions – resilient.

“Our community’s response to the Oct. 20 tornado proved once again that Dallas is a resilient city. Our first responders and city employees did a magnificent job in the aftermath,” said Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson. “And when I toured the devastating damage, I was touched to see neighbors helping neighbors pick up saws to cut up downed trees, move personal belongings, put tarps over damaged roofs, and pick up the remains of destroyed businesses.”

Johnson toured much of the area just hours after the tornado hit with city council members, including Lee Kleinman and Gates, whose districts experienced a great deal of the impact.

“After the tornado had passed, we saw and continue to see tremendous resilience among the North Dallas community,” Kleinman said. “While the impact was disastrous, people reflected on the fact that no one was killed and just started getting their life back on track. This included finding a place to live, getting their property secured, making insurance claims, hiring contractors, and cleaning up.”

“The area is devastated. Many will be displaced for over a year. Plans were severely disrupted,” he added. “Nevertheless, Dallas people see a problem and work the problem and are getting on with their lives.”

After Dallas ISD saw around 3,000 students displaced immediately after the storm, response came from the community with both practical help and contributions to fundraising efforts through the relief fund set up by the Dallas Education Foundation.

“Donations of volunteer hours, school supplies, gift cards and contributions to the Dallas Education Foundation Tornado Disaster Relief Effort has given everyone in Dallas ISD the strength and spirit to move forward, especially when we were overwhelmed with the scale of the impact,” said foundation executive director Mita Havlick. “What we directly felt through all of this is that Dallas ISD and our students and schools are intertwined with this incredibly big-hearted and generous city.”

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