Stars of Hope descend upon Vilonia

Out of the spotlight, a group of volunteers deployed to Vilonia, last week, and nailed more than 700 colorfully painted stars with handwritten, inspirational messages to telephone poles, fences and inserted them on stakes stuck in the ground.

Wearing T-shirts that said Groesbeck Rebuilds America, 13 volunteers representing the organization Stars of Hope, set up temporary headquarters at the Vilonia Primary School. The volunteers from Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Illinois and Kansas unloaded a truck Thursday, at the school, filled with the blank wooden stars and allowed students and the staff to paint them. On Friday morning, the volunteers during the pouring rain, were out with hammers putting them up. The project complete, they quietly left the area without pomp or circumstance.

“It’s a way for children to express their feelings about what has happened in their community,” said volunteer Pat Samuels of Groesbeck, Texas. “We just kind of come in, get it done and leave.”

The organization has workshops across the country where stars are traced on wood and cut out in preparation to be taken to a devastated community. In the spirit of “Paying It Forward” the community of Groesbeck formed the non-profit group called Groesbeck Rebuilds America following a tornado which devastated their city in 2006. The volunteers of Groesbeck Rebuilds America, a 501c3, also teamed up with the Stars of Hope Foundation which is a child-centered, community based art project whose focus is on communities that have been hit by some type of disaster. A couple of the volunteers in Vilonia were members of the Vincent family. Debby Vincent said she ran a living centers for disabled veterans out of their home and it was downed by the tornado that hit Groesbeck and was rebuilt by the New Year Says Thank You organization. The Vincent family members also comprised nearly one-quarter of the Volunteer Fire Department of Groesbeck.

The organization has distributed about 48,000 stars since 2007. Each star is hand cut and hand sanded, said volunteers. They said they “feel the need” to do it that way rather than use machinery. They have put up stars in 12 U.S. states and other countries including Israel, Africa, Ireland, Japan and Poland that have faced devastation and destruction.

The organization mapped out the tornado path before arriving and installed the messages reflecting the path in the city. Students were told to leave the stars up for a month or so then to feel free to go and get the star they painted.

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