On June 22 an EF-1 tornado ripped through Portland, a small town in Ionia County located in Mid-Michigan. The high winds and debris destroyed homes, businesses, and churches, causing thousands of dollars in damages in only ten minutes. When the storm dissipated, residents ventured outside to find a town they hardly recognized: uprooted trees and brush-covered streets, the roofs of centuries-old churches strewn over yards, and broken glass carpeting parking lots. The destruction was immense, but Portland residents were not about to despair.
The town organized quickly, assessing damages, opening a shelter for anyone who had lost their home and engaging volunteers to help with clean-up and repairs. While Portland administrators were tackling expenses and relief efforts, locals began organizing efforts of their own. Concerned citizens started the Portland Strong Facebook page and invited friends, family, and neighbors to join. In a matter of weeks, the number swelled to over 2,300 members in a town with just over 3,800 people.
Members of the group posted needs and offers for help, equipment available to clear brush, thanks to volunteers, inspiring photos, news stories, questions about businesses, fundraisers, and more. The group became a hub of information about recovery efforts, detailing what businesses would be reopening and when, when roads were closed and would be reopened, how fundraisers were being conducted and how residents could contribute. Those who had trees and brush around their homes could ask for help and neighbors with chainsaws and strong arms came to assist.
“Hey, we could still use a ‘little’ help. We have a small bush/tree and a bunch of tree limbs that are around our little side house, in the backyard, that we could use some help cutting down and getting rid of,” one member posted. Neighbors quickly came to help – at this site and dozens of others.
Portland Strong became the rallying cry across town. Local businesses and residents sold t-shirts, mugs, necklaces, and other items emblazoned with Portland Strong, with funds benefitting damaged homes, businesses, and churches. A week after the disaster, #PortlandStrong began showing up in chalk across the town, on damaged sidewalks, in parking lots, on roads and more, giving strength and showing Portland’s solidarity. The movement that started online began to appear everywhere, giving direction to relief efforts and helping to keep the town of Portland together.
“Back to the business of rebuilding our wonderful community,” the page moderator posted. “That’s when we turn to our neighbor. This is the place where we will always find one.”
Ionia County recently joined the Connected Community Engagement Program headed by the Ionia County Economic Alliance. The Connected program finds, publishes, and disseminates broadband and technology best practices, such as this, to its participating communities to increase the collective adoption and use of technology throughout the country. Learn more about how communities across the nation are getting online and banding together for the greater good. Stay in touch with http://connectmycommunity.org/ to learn more.
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