Heartland COO Makes Plea At XChange For Tornado Relief Assistance

Jane Cage's eyes fill with tears when she thinks of the death and carnage she has lived with since a tornado wreaked havoc in Joplin, Mo. where she lives, works and prays.

Cage has seen a big chunk of her community obliterated and buried friends like Tripp Miller, a 49-year-old with Down's syndrome who was living in a group home with two other developmentally disabled adults and a caretaker. "That's the hardest to talk about," says Cage, who is a member of the same First Presybeterian Church that Miller attended each week. "Their house must have been directly hit. He must have been so scared."

Miller is one of 153 people killed when, on that Sunday May 22, the tornado struck Joplin, wiping out an estimated 8,000 buildings and 300 businesses. To put it plainly, the tornado ripped a hole in the fabric of the lives of this close-knit community of 50,000. An estimated 18,000 Joplin residents have been displaced. The first trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived just this week.

Cage, the COO of Heartland Technology Solutions, a Joplin Mo., solution provider that helped push forward a fundraising campaign to get community members and businesses back on their feet, came to Jacksonville, Fla. Friday to Everything Channel's XChange Public Sector conference to make a plea to her colleagues and members of the technology community to make donations that will allow children to start school in some 56 days with computers, notebooks, and other school supplies that are badly needed. Four school buildings were completely destroyed and the total damage to the schools is estimated at $150 million.

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"We have a whole district full of school children who have seen things that they shouldn't see and who have lost their homes and have lost everything they know," Cage said. "And everyday they drive through it because you can't go from one side of town to another without seeing it. We have to work hard to make school right for kids."

Cage showed XChange attendees an emotional photo montage of the destruction set to the backdrop of The Mark Chapman Band's "Where Would You Go If You Couldn't Go Home." The slide show included before and after scenes of Joplin High School and The Franklin Technology Center which were both completely destroyed by the Tornado.

Next: How The Schools Have Been Impacted

Joplin's 11th and 12th grade high school students are meeting in the local mall in the old Shopko department store. The Franklin Technology Center, the vocational center, is meeting in a warehouse just down the street from Cage's business.

"We need laptops, projectors, smartboards, wireless, printers, bulletin boards, classroom materials," says Cage. "Two hundred fifty teachers lost their classroom full of materials. About $1,200 per teacher is what we think it will take to reconstitute what we had." The city estimates 4,000 students from the affected area need school supplies.

Cage is hoping the technology community steps up and provides all the computers and equipment the schools need to get up and running for the new school year at the end of August. "It can't be done in two months," she said of the donations that need to come. "It has to be done now. Otherwise we won't be ready when school starts."

Hewlett Packard and Microsoft have been among the vendors who have stepped up to help the community. XChange Public Sector Attendees reached into their pockets and contributed more than $3,000 to the relief effort. And Everything Channel's parent company, United Business Media, agreed to match the donations.

Cage said financial donations can be made to brightfuturesjoplin.org.

Matt Smith, director of Americas Channel Marketing for HP, which has donated more than $200,000 in IT equipment and cash, urged all IT vendors and members of the solution provider community to come to the aid of the Joplin, Mo. community.

"We are all fierce competitors when you look at us as vendors, but we are also a community, a strong community," said Smith. "When one hurts, we all hurt. We are championing getting the community to pull together to help when one is in need."

HP is continuing with philanthropic efforts and is setting up an initiative aimed at responding to support of solution providers struck by tragedy. "We have been fortunate enough to be able to help here," he said. "We are setting up the ability to do this over and over in the future."

Smith urged members of the channel community to give whatever they can in terms of technology products or consulting resources. "It's about the strength of the channel, a healthier channel is better for everybody," he said. "We are all in this together."

Cage is asking everyone who can give to help in whatever way they can. "Money is great because with money we can buy what we need when we need it," she said.