- Associated Press - Friday, April 14, 2017

GREENSBURG, Kan. (AP) - While most of the speakers during an annual leadership seminar at K-State spoke about strategy to solve complex challenges, a Greensburg man shared a simple story about a dog.

The Hutchinson News (https://bit.ly/2ok10Rs ) reports that it will be 10 years next month when 95 percent of Greensburg was destroyed by a tornado. Among the survivors were Matt Deighton and his dog Molly.

“Since then, the story of the recovery and renewal has been compelling,” said Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd Institute of Rural Development. Wilson invited Deighton to be the luncheon speaker in Manhattan during the seminar in March.

Matt played a pivotal role and the message from Matt was showing leadership in whatever circumstances we face,” Wilson said.

Since May 4, 2007, working as a volunteer coordinator as his community worked to rebuild, then becoming an ambassador, Deighton and his Dalmatian Molly have met survivors from disasters all over the U.S., from California to New York. While Deighton would share with people how to come through a disaster, Molly would just go up to strangers and wag her tail.

“I always tell people to come visit us,” Deighton said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t reinvent the wheel; learn from our mistakes and progress so you can go forward.’”

During his talk, Deighton wanted to illustrate the power of the public and private sector working together, because that’s what allowed Greensburg to come back.

“We had the ability to put the volunteer programs and the faith-based entities into one big pot when we came back,” Deighton said. “I think people forgot that we didn’t have a housing program for almost six months because we were trying to convert renters into first-time homeowners.”

But with the help of volunteers from churches in places like Pennsylvania and Nebraska, they were able to plug into people willing to help build their houses.

From the tornado, Deighton learned the importance of paying it forward.

According to Deighton, “Stars of Hope” became a reality in 2007 when the Vincent family of Groesbeck, Texas, decided to pay it forward for all the New York Says Thank You volunteers who helped rebuild their homes following a deadly tornado. Their first project was bringing “hope and color” back into the lives of 220 children in Greensburg with wooden stars they helped color following the EF-5 tornado.

Deighton’s second children’s book, “Molly and the Stars of Hope,” was published in March. It tells the story of Matt and Molly delivering wooden stars to a town that was destroyed by a tornado. The stars were made by children and adults in his town ruined by a tornado a few years ago.

“It’s our way of paying it forward,” Matt explains in the book. “We will put up these stars around the town and give color, hope and inspiration to a dull area. We have over 1,000 stars!”

The last page of the book explains the history of the Stars of Hope, and how it was born out of the tragedy of 9/11.

Molly, who came into Deighton’s life in when she was 6 weeks old, rode out the tornado in a basement with Matt and his mother, many neighbors, several dogs, four turtles and a parakeet.

Because of her sweet nature and unconditional love, Molly was a natural therapy dog during the days and months cleaning up and rebuilding. She died on Dec. 9, 2013. But she lives on in the children’s books.


Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, https://www.hutchnews.com

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