Dr. Thomas and Brandon Dyer, OBU alumnus, address OBU volunteers prior to participating in community cleanup.
Features Spring 2024

Shawnee Residents and OBU Volunteers Join Forces in Tornado Aftermath

Typically, when we think of heroes, the first images that come to mind are often first responders or fictional caped crusaders. However, immediately after the April 19 tornado, another group of heroes captured the spotlight on Bison Hill: the Shawnee community.

Along with first responders, members of the Shawnee community were among the first to appear on Bison Hill, helping assess damages and begin cleanup.

“On the heels of the tornado in April, we were in crisis mode here on campus,” said Director of Student Ministry Dr. Matthew Kearns. “We saw a lot of response from partners and friends in ministry.”

OBU is blessed to have so many partners across the country willing to help in any way they can. However, OBU President Dr. Heath A. Thomas realized that the Shawnee community may not have that same support.

“As we were able to get back on our feet, immediately Dr. Thomas was thinking about how we can serve others in our community that don’t have all these partners,” Kearns said. “Out of that, there was a desire for us to do what was necessary on the campus but also turn our attention outward to the community.”

One of the first events hosted by OBU to repay the Shawnee community was Big Serve Shawnee. During the event, OBU faculty, staff and students volunteered to help with cleanup around Shawnee in partnership with Community Renewal.

“Big Serve was largely nuts and bolts, literally picking up nuts and bolts, nails and glass, all those kinds of things that happened right out of the gate,” Kearns said. “Lots of cleanup in that regard.”

This event was not just about general cleanup but also attempting to bring back a sense of normalcy following the storm.

“There was still a lot of work to be done, so we did trash pickup and cleanup in downtown Shawnee, along Kickapoo, and in some neighborhoods, but we also worked to help some events move forward in the community to help reestablish some sense of normalcy,” Kearns said.

OBU and Shawnee have been great partners for more than a century.

“We are committed and dedicated to students, faculty and staff having a great experience here at OBU,” Kearns said. “We believe a great experience at OBU means OBU serves our community and the world. The heart behind it is we want to communicate to friends and neighbors as we’re commissioned to do as followers of Jesus and as a compassionate member of the community to care for those around us.”

While helping at the Community Market, Dr. Thomas was asked what message he hoped Bison Serve would send to Shawnee.

“OBU is here for our community,” he said. “We serve regularly through Bison Buddies and a number of other service projects in our city. We want our community to know we are here to serve and engage. OBU wants to be a crucial part and contributor to the well-being of this incredible city.”

OBU is connected to Shawnee in more ways than just location. Student organizations work with local organizations to host events and fundraisers to support those in need in Shawnee.

“We talk often about what Jesus said in Mark 10:45, which is ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,’” Kearns said. “So, I think opportunities like this put us right in line with following King Jesus in compassionate and caring service in our community.”

An example of one of these partnerships would be Kappa Phi Beta, a student organization dedicated to positively impacting OBU’s campus and the Shawnee community. They work in unison with Community Renewal to raise funds for those in need in Shawnee.

“We work with the Kappas as their community partner and provide opportunities for them to invest in the lives of grade-schoolers in our community,” said Brandon Dyer, Executive Director of Community Renewal and OBU alumnus. “The Kappas have also been generous with donations from their events like Chacos and Tacos to help with our kids’ clubs across town.”

Community Renewal offers education and opportunities for building better relationships and communities. They accomplish this by connecting people who have a heart to serve with one another and equipping them with the tools to develop healthy, caring relationships throughout the community.

Following the April 19th tornado, Community Renewal and OBU partnered to help the community by opening a daily distribution center and volunteer hub at the OBU Green Campus.

“Community Renewal and OBU partnered strategically to help the community in the aftermath of the April 19th tornado, which devastated portions of Shawnee,” Dyer said. “By allowing us to open a daily distribution and volunteer hub at the Green Campus, over 6,000 people in our community were able to access the emergency support and care that they desperately needed as shipments of supplies showed up from all over the country,”

Partnerships like this benefit OBU students by training them to be servants of Christ. It allows them to create valuable connections with other students who volunteer, Shawnee citizens, and organizations like Community Renewal.

“OBU students can have a tremendous impact on the community of Shawnee by choosing to invest their God-given love and care while they are here,” Dyer said. “Students don’t have to wait for a special mission trip to become a future version of themselves to be future shapers.”

Since Dyer is an OBU alumnus, he understands OBU and what’s happening on campus. His relationship with OBU is more akin to brotherhood or family than just a simple partnership. Through efforts like Bison Serve and organizations like Kappa Phi Beta, OBU strives to build this kind of relationship with the Shawnee community so that the University can serve them just as they have served OBU.

Often, it is said that heroes will answer any call to action; however, after the April 19th tornado, no call was needed. Numerous heroes across the Shawnee community showed up to assist OBU in cleanup efforts, and OBU intends to continue its strong partnership with the Shawnee community through these various volunteer programs.