GREENSBURG — Several Kiowa County High School students, who were only 5 years old when the 2007 tornado devastated their hometown of Greensburg, were official ribbon-cutters last week for a 2019 ceremony with New Hope Across America.
Brandon Boyles, Colby Tedder, Kade Trummel and Cooper Zenger, now high school seniors, were just kindergartners when New Hope brought the first 'painting of the stars' program to their town as a way to offer comfort and inspiration for the future.
"I never thought they'd be back here with a bus," Zenger said. “It’s an honor to cut this ribbon.”
The New Hope Across America bus with founder Jeff Parness made his first stop on a New York Says Thank You Foundation tour in Greensburg a couple weeks ago, escorted by the local fire department with lights, bells and whistles as they drove down Main Street. The bus parked in front of the Kiowa County School where students came out to meet Parness.
Parness came to Greensburg 12 years ago after the tornado that destroyed most of the town. After losing his friend and business partner in 9/11, Parness wanted to do something to honor him and make a difference for people all over the world so he created the New York says Thank You Foundation that exists to build hope and provide healing to people around the world by focusing on the humanity, kindness and volunteer spirit that New Yorkers — and all Americans — experienced on 9/11.
Parness and two NYC firefighters showed up in Greensburg a few months after the tornado. Parness then asked the 220 students in Greensburg to think of something inspirational and encouraging to paint on the stars.
Parness and the New York Says Thank You Foundation, which rebuilt the 4-H building in Greenburg, said he had been to the Gulf Coast 28 times after Katrina and had never seen so much disaster there as what he saw in Greensburg.
“As I walked around the town I thought, how do we bring color back, how do we bring hope back?” Parness said. “Greensburg was a barren and lifeless-looking community after the tornado and needed hope.”
That is when Parness got the idea of the stars, and what he thought would just be a therapeutic art project turned into the beginning of bringing back color and inspiration to communities in the form of stars all over the world, and children embraced the project.
"Kids were dragging their parents out of FEMA trailers to go look for their stars, and as they drove all over town, people were inspired by what had been written on those stars," Parness said. “Wherever people looked they knew they were not alone, and there was hope in the middle of their tragedy. Sometimes all people need to know is that someone else cares.“
Since then, Parness and his foundation has given hope to 270 towns and cities in 26 countries in times of need. Stars of Hope are inspiring people in the middle of their own disasters, some as far away as Syria.
The stars have been a blessing to Greensburg in more than one way, as the stars are now manufactured in Greensburg and sent out all over the world.
“It is a pay-it-forward kind of attitude,” Parness said.