Jeff Parness founded Stars of HOPE, Hope Across America, a group that brings inspiration to communities affected by disaster which began in Greensburg after the 2007 tornado devastated that city. He brought his entourage back to Kiowa County last week, visiting with school children, some of whom were in kindergarten 12 years ago when he first stopped in.
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 Stars of HOPE.
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 Hope Across America bus with founder Jeff Parness made his first stop on a Hope Across America tour in Greensburg on November 26, 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 met Parness and learn about his work to make a difference in the world.
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 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. In 2007, when Parness heard about Greensburg and the destruction left by the tornado, he wanted to share the support and love that New York City had found from people all over the world.
Parness, and two NYC firefighters showed up in Greensburg a few months after the tornado in part to simply bring some stars cut out by the Vincent family in Texas, helped by the foundation previously. 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 one of the reasons he wanted to have the stars painted was because 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. With a new option being offered called Box of Hope. People can order the stars in a kit, to paint their own inspirational messages and send them to those going through their own tragedy.
“It is a pay if forward kind of attitude,” Parness said.
Last Tuesday, a special ribbon-cutting ceremony took place as all the children in the school gathered around and shouted, “We're from Greensburg Kansas and we believe in hope.”
Parness told the students to always remember love is stronger than hate and love always wins.
"This is exciting for Greensburg to be the part of something that has carried so much hope all over the world," said Stacey Barnes, City Administrator. "We were the first place they ever placed stars. Greensburg is a part of history that has helped us to touch so many lives"
Staci Derstein, School Superintendent, said the local school system has continued to try to educate students so they will know what the Stars of Hope means to so many all over the world.
"Last week the students painted more stars to be loaded on the bus today," Derstein said. “Those stars will now be taken to another community somewhere in the world so those people will now know that there are others thinking about them and they have hope no matter what they are going through."