Film shows impact of Joplin tornado healing garden created by DU students

Media Contact: Traci Sooter – Professor of Architecture; Director of Design-Build Programs: (417) 234-6405

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., May 22, 2017 — Since opening three years ago, the Landscapes of Resilience Butterfly Garden & Overlook in Joplin has helped the residents of a tornado-ravaged community experience healing and recovery through nature and thoughtful design.

Today, on the sixth anniversary of the Joplin tornado, a short documentary film telling the story of this project – designed by the Drury University Hammons School of Architecture’s Design-Build Program – is being released.

The seven-minute film, titled “Butterfly Angels,” shines a light on an effort that drew together an eclectic and passionate team of people, many from Joplin and the surrounding area; others from a thousand miles away. Together, they focused on conceptualizing and creating a green space, a healing garden, for the purpose of helping the people of Joplin deal with the enormous trauma inflicted by the tornado.

The film will be available for viewing starting Monday at: It will also be featured by AccuWeather on television and online.


“The devastation that Joplin experienced was beyond what most of us can fully imagine,” said Alden Stoner, the producer and co-director behind “Butterfly Angels.” “When we think of disaster recovery, most of us envision the rebuilding process — the reconstruction of homes, businesses — but in truth, it’s about something much deeper.”

Among the voices heard in the film are those of Drury architecture professors and co-lead project designers Traci Sooter and Nancy Chikaraishi; and Chris Cotten, head of Joplin’s Parks and Recreation Department and a Drury alumnus. Others include former mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean and Cornell University’s Keith Tidball, who has long studied how nature can be a source of resilience for communities.

The Garden & Overlook project showcases a unique aspect of the Hammons School’s Design-Build Program: a “whole school” approach that pulls in students and faculty members from across Drury’s liberal arts spectrum. English students collected and transcribed survivor stories, which inspired design students prior to the build, and were eventually quoted on the storyboards in the garden. Psychology faculty has studied the healing aspects of the garden for Joplin residents. More than 60 students, staff and faculty converged on the site to install some features. Music Therapy students played music to motivate, uplift, and rejuvenate volunteers.

“Butterfly Angels” was produced by Stoneworth Studios, in partnership with the TKF Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to enabling more opportunities for people to experience the healing and restorative benefits of nature. The Foundation, through its Nature Sacred Award program, was a major funder of the Garden, which is also serving as a research site for Tidball and a team of fellow researchers from Drury University and the USDA National Forest Service. The team is seeking to learn more about the benefits of specific aspects of these types of green spaces.

Learn more about the Butterfly Garden & Overlook at:


Joplin Butterfly Garden & Overlook dedication to be held Thursday

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., May 21, 2014 — Drury University and the Hammons School of Architecture (HSA) will take part in the dedication ceremonies for the Landscapes of Resilience Butterfly Garden and Overlook in Joplin’s Cunningham Park at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, May 22 – the third anniversary of the devastating 2011 tornado.

The Butterfly Garden and Overlook serves as a peaceful place of healing and remembrance, marking the Joplin community’s commitment to moving forward. The project is more than a beautiful space – it’s also steeped with symbolism. Some of the symbolic touches include a water wall with 38 segments representing each of the 38 minutes the tornado was on the ground, two stainless steel sculptures representing a “torn” and “whole” community, and a unique wooden bench and pavilion with forms that evoke transformation and resilience. Rising above it all are steel frames representing homes lost to the tornado.

The Butterfly Garden and Overlook site was designed by HSA students, led by faculty members Traci Sooter and Nancy Chikaraishi. Drury humanities students assisted in collecting and curating personal memories of survivors for a series of story boards at the site.


“The community has been through so much since May 2011, yet they have been a vital part of this project,” says Sooter, Director of the HSA Design/Build program at Drury. “This is our opportunity to give back to all who have been affected and who have helped through this past year. We want everyone to visit and experience the healing elements incorporated into the overlook and garden.”

Drury students and faculty worked closely with the City of Joplin Parks and Recreation and Springfield firm Great River Associates, which provided landscape architectural design. The Landscapes of Resilience project is funded by a $585,000 grant from the TKF Foundation and a $250,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation, $100,000 of which helped fund the Butterfly Garden and Overlook site. Additional Landscape of Resilience partners include Cornell University, the U.S. Forest Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation, Forest ReLeaf of Missouri and TILL Design. A multi-disciplinary research and design team proposed the Landscapes of Resilience project that will study the role of open spaces in recovery from both the Joplin 2011 tornado and Superstorm Sandy that hit New York City and surrounding area in 2012.



Smart Mob builds butterfly garden in Joplin


Drury University’s “Smart Mob!” heads to Joplin Nov. 8

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Nov. 6, 2013 – Drury University’s “Smart Mob!” will head to Joplin, Mo. for the second time on Friday, Nov. 8 to help build the Butterfly Garden and Overlook in Cunningham Park. The project elements were designed by third-year architecture students at Drury.

“Smart Mob!” is an on-campus student-run service organization that focuses on emergency rescue and community service. Michael Ligibel, president of Drury’s Smart Mob said, “It’s an awesome experience. We do a flash mob to help people. Being able to go out into the community and make a significant impact in only a few hours is one of the best experiences you could ever go through.”

A team of students, led by Drury professors Traci Sooter, Design/Build Program Director and Nancy Chikaraishi, will also be in Joplin from Nov. 4 through Nov. 9 to orchestrate a “blitz build” of the site to include water features, a pavilion and benches. Sooter and her group refer to this type of energetic work as Extreme Design/Build: Drury Style.

This project was made possible through many partners, including Cornell University, U.S. Forest Service, Drury University, Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, Great River Associates, Till Design, Missouri Department of Conservation Joplin and Joplin Parks and Recreation, as well as the TKF Foundation’s Open Spaces Sacred Places initiative, which creates natural settings for the public to help people cope with stress andburdens resulting from disasters.

For more details about this event, please contact Traci Sooter at (417) 873-7416 o remail

Drury University to participate in Landscapes of Resilience, a grant funded project in Joplin

Joplin, Mo., May 22, 2013 —Drury University faculty and students will participate in “Landscapes of Resilience,” a grant funded project designed to help people heal from disasters. With more than half-a-million dollars from the TKF Foundation and Wal-Mart, the team will examine how planning and stewardship of open spaces can help communities and individuals recover from tragedy.

Today, on May 22, the two-year anniversary of the Joplin Tornado that killed 161 people, The TKF Foundation announced the funding for Landscapes of Resilience at the commemoration of the tornado in Joplin. The project will involve the creation of sites in Joplin and an area in New York City damaged by Hurricane Sandy. In addition to the creation of sites, the three-year, $585,000 grant will also fund research to study the role of open spaces and sacred places in recovery and resiliency.

Drury University students will design and build the Joplin Butterfly Garden and Overlook in historic Cunningham Park with the help of the City of Joplin Parks and Recreation and Great River Associates. A Drury humanities class will collect stories of Joplin tornado survivors. Those stories will be incorporated into the Butterfly Garden and Overlook and used for educational purposes. Stories can be sent to

Artist rendering of Joplin Butterfly Garden

“It’s just 75 miles from Drury to Cunningham Park, and since the day the tornado struck, the Drury community has sought to help our neighbors to the west,” said Traci Sooter, Drury architecture professor. “Our desire is to create a space that will help the survivors heal, educate people about the tornado and lives lost, and serve as a learning tool for our Drury students.”

Immediately after the tornado, Drury staff, faculty, students and alumni assisted with cleanup. In the fall of 2011, Drury architecture faculty and students designed and built a volunteer tribute in Cunningham Park that was featured on the series finale of ABC Television’s Extreme Makeover:Home Edition.

Researchers will study the role of open spaces in recovery in two locations: Joplin and New York City. They will examine differences and similarities in community recovery from the 2011 Joplin tornado that killed 161 people and destroyed much of the city, and after Superstorm Sandy struck New York City and the surrounding area in October 2012, killing 72 people and causing extensive damage.

The Landscapes of Resilience Team is made up of a diverse set of organizations: Drury University, Cornell University, The U.S. Forest Service, Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, The City of Joplin Parks and Recreation, Till Design in New Jersey, and Great River Associates in Springfield, Mo.

“We are honored that the TKF Foundation selected Landscapes of Resilience for thisgrant funding,” said Nancy Chikaraishi, Drury architecture professor. “The spaces we create will help individuals and communities heal from these natural disasters. The research seeks to understand the similarities and differences in how communities recover and respond to tragedy.

Established in 1996, the TKF Foundation is a private non-profit that funds the research and creation of publicly accessible urban green space. Their mission is to provide the opportunity for a deeper human experience by inspiring and supporting the creation of public green space that offers a temporary place of sanctuary, encourages reflection, provides solace and engenders peace and well being.

Media Contact:
Traci Sooter, AIA, LEED AP
Director of Design/Build at Drury Office: (417) 873-7416
Mobile: (417) 234-6405


Drury University and GreenTown Joplin partner to design and build demonstration eco-home for tornado-stricken Joplin

JOPLIN, Mo., January 17, 2012 GreenTown Joplin will partner with Drury University Hammons School of Architecture to develop and construct a demonstration eco-home in Joplin. Nine students will spend this semester researching and designing a unique home that will be used by GreenTown Joplin as an education center and office. Fundraising will take place this spring and summer, with construction slated to begin in the fall.

The home, dubbed the Monarch Eco-Home, is part of GreenTown’s Chain of Eco-Homes(CoEH) program. The CoEH are permanent demonstration projects that are open to the public and serve as community information hubs for sustainability and environmental initiatives relating to sustainable disaster recovery. They act as information clearinghouses for sustainable building and living practices and explore the numerous approaches to creating an energy efficient & healthy home environment.

“This is a unique opportunity to educate both the residents of Joplin as well as the students – the future designers of new buildings – about the benefits and practice of constructing sustainable buildings,” said Joah Bussert, project director for the Monarch Eco-Home.

The introduction of an eco-home in Joplin will provide residents and students with the opportunity to witness firsthand the construction of a sustainable home. Progress will be documented via the GreenTown and Drury University websites, as well as other outlets, with detailed information about the process and products provided. Residents will be able to gain an intimate knowledge of the construction practices employed and learn invaluable tips and methods to consider in the reconstruction of their own homes. The construction site will also be open to visitors through tours and demonstration events.

The home will use a unique concrete wall system donated by TF Forming Systems, located in Springfield. The system, known as vertical Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF), is designed to withstand the high winds found in severe weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes. It also provides an advantage for energy efficiency. Based on research by Building Works, Inc., homes built with ICF exterior walls require an estimated 44% less energy to heat and 32% less energy to cool than comparable houses built using traditional wood-frame construction. Over the course of the project, TF will also provide students with the education and training required to design and build using this cutting-edge technology.

The parent company of Joplin Concrete, The Monarch Cement Company of Humboldt, Kansas, provided seed funding for the project, with additional support provided by the Portland Cement Association. George Van Hoesen of Global Green Building will provide construction management and energy efficiency consulting.

Drury Contact:
Traci Sooter, Associate Director,, 417-873-7416
Nancy Chikaraishi, Associate Professor,, 417-873-7459

GreenTown Joplin Contact:
Catherine Hart, General Manager,, 620-549-3752
Joah Bussert, CoEH Project Director,, 630-776-7624

About GreenTown Joplin

GreenTown Joplin is a project of Greensburg GreenTown, the nonprofit organization that helped Greensburg, Kansas, rebuild a “green,” energy-efficient community after the tornado of May 2007 destroyed most of the town. GreenTown staff members have been working in Joplin since August of 2011, having assembled a committee of sustainability experts from the area to assist residents, business owners and the city as they recover and rebuild after the devastating tornado of May 2011. More information is available at


Six faculty members earn award for community engagement

Springfield, Mo., Aug. 16, 2012 — Six Drury faculty members earned the inaugural President’s Award of Excellence for Community Engagement.

Architecture Professors Nancy Chikaraishi, Keith Hedges, and Traci Sooter, Adjunct Architecture Instructor Rufus Louderback, Psychology Professor Dr. Jennifer Silva Brown, and Communication Professor Dr. Regina Waters were recognized for dedicating countless hours of service to help Joplin rebuild in the aftermath of the May 22, 2011 tornado and for engaging the larger Drury community in meaningful service.

(L to R) Keith Hedges, Jennifer Silva Brown, Traci Sooter, Nancy Chikaraishi, Regina Waters, Rufus Louderback.

In the fall of 2011, Drury students, led by the architecture faculty, designed and built a volunteer tribute at Cunningham Park in Joplin in just one week. The park had been destroyed by the May 22, 2011 tornado. As part of that project, Waters’ communication class organized a “Smart Mob” of more than 100 members of the Drury community who converged on Joplin in one day to help meet the construction deadline.

Dr. Silva Brown and several behavioral science undergraduates conducted research on tornado victims in the fall of 2011 that focused on the victims’ mental health post-disaster and effective coping skills. In 2012, Silva Brown partnered with the architecture department to complete a longitudinal study of those same victims.

Drury faculty, staff, alumni and students recorded a combined 13,463 hours of service to Joplin projects.

The award reads, in part, “…this greatly deserved recognition is for much more than an impressive quantity of service hours; for in their response to the disaster in Joplin, these individuals truly embodied the Drury mission and vision.  Through their commitment to community engagement and service-learning, they provided our students with educational opportunities that ‘foster the integration of theoretical and practical knowledge, that liberates persons to participate responsibly in and contribute to life in a global community, and that educates students to become engaged, ethical, and compassionate citizens for servant leadership in communities characterized by change, complexity and global interdependence.’”


Drury students study coping skills following Joplin tornado

Springfield, Mo., Monday, Jan. 9 This Friday at 7 p.m., ABC television’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition will feature its work in Joplin in October when the show built houses for seven families that lost their homes in the May 22 tornado. Hundreds of Drury student, faculty, and staff descended on Joplin for that week of work as Drury designed and built a tribute in Cunningham Park to honor volunteers and donated thousands of dollars in scholarships to high school seniors in Joplin.

Paige Nichols and Melanie Messick interview survivors

Long before Extreme Makeover descended on Joplin, a group of seven Drury undergraduates and one psychology professor were in the community working on the emotional and mental impact of the tornado. Dr. Jennifer Silva Brown developed the Joplin Impact Project based on work she did in Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast. In September and October, Silva Brown and her students interviewed and surveyed 87 Joplin area residents about how they were coping with their lives after the tornado. The purpose of the Joplin Impact Project is to gather data from survivors to see if they are suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or other stress-related maladies. “We’re trying to distinguish those who are struggling from those who are resilient and healthy,” said Silva Brown. “We also look at how survivors coped with the tornado, by asking if they turned to such things as exercise, prayer, interaction with friends or family, and use of drugs and/or alcohol. The ultimate goal is to understand which characteristics promote a healthy adjustment to post-disaster life.”

Silva Brown’s students are done coding their data and she will begin digging into the numbers and draw conclusions from the statistics this spring. “What we’ve learned from the survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has helped Joplin residents, and the research we’re doing in Joplin will in turn help the survivors of the next major disaster.  We’re constantly learning,” says Silva Brown.

Joplin Impact team: (top row, l-r): Paige Nichols, Spencer Prevallet, Dr. Jennifer Silva Brown, and Alexandra Duello. (Bottom row, l-r): Morgan Merrell, Melanie Messick, Bailey Greene and Blake Herd.

For the seven undergraduates who conducted the research, it was a rare opportunity to gain field experience, “This project is a wonderful opportunity to help the Joplin community. In return, the Joplin community is enhancing my education, by giving a rare opportunity to go out in the field, interview survivors and then see the results,” said Paige Nichols.


Drury’s Extreme Makeover efforts earn media attention

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Oct. 27, 2011 — For the past week,  Drury University students, faculty and staff have helped ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition (EMHE) help transform tornado ravaged Joplin. Drury Architecture Professor Traci Sooter headed up a team of students to design and create a landscape feature that is a tribute to the more than 100,000 volunteers who helped Joplin rebuild after the May 22 tornado.

Drury students lay sod at the Joplin Volunteer Tribute

This effort has earned Drury media coverage in Joplin:

Extreme Home Makeover Home Edition built seven houses in seven days for seven families that lost their homes on May 22. Drury has granted $25,000 scholarships to the 14 children under the age of 18 who live in those homes. Also, Drury has pledged a $1,000 scholarship to any 2012 high school graduate living in the Joplin School District. The graduate can be a public school, private school or a home school student. The scholarship is contingent upon the student being admissible to Drury University.