By Stewart McKenzie, CBS 11 News
photo21 Mission Joplin: The Journey That Changed Lives

Credit: Stewart McKenzie

JOPLIN, Mo. (CBSDFW.COM) – When an EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Missouri, last month, thousands of lives were changed in a matter of minutes.

Joplin’s journey to recovery and rebuilding is leaving a lasting impression on volunteers who travel to southwest Missouri.

This week, we’ve been publishing stories about a group of 65 adult and teen volunteers from Tarrant County who are spending the week in Joplin to help with the cleanup.  They’re not alone.

Individuals and church groups from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Indiana and Springfield, Missouri, are spread out this week across the city.  And then there’s a church group that traveled 13 hours to Joplin.

photo11 Mission Joplin: The Journey That Changed Lives

Credit: Stewart McKenzie

Lon and Retta Huston brought a group of 8 church volunteers from Cheyenne, Wyoming.  The Hustons changed their vacation so they could come to Missouri.  On Tuesday, the group’s work began with picking debris from a field.

In the afternoon, they were assigned cleanup duty at a house that felt the force of the tornado’s 200 mile per hour wind.  Retta Huston couldn’t describe the damage without tearing up.  “That was really hard,” said Retta.

Before coming to Joplin, Lon Huston had seen the damage through media reports.  “It was a lot worse than I expected,” as Lon reflected on seeing the destruction first hand.

The volunteer effort for Joplin does not go unnoticed by residents.  Electronic signs in the city offer thanks for the work.

More than 45,000 volunteers have come to Joplin to lend a helping hand.  According to the city, it’s estimated those volunteers have spent 207,105 hours picking up debris, tearing down heavily damaged houses and distributing supplies.

The city calls the volunteer effort the “Miracle of the Human Spirit”.

Seeing the destruction first hand is leaving a lasting memory on young people and adults.

For Roe Toahty, it’s left such an impression that he’s moving to Joplin.  The Native American is from Midwest City, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City.

“I’m out there doing things that I’ve never done before,” said Toahty who was a restaurant chef.  Roe says while in Joplin he’s operated a chainsaw, put a roof on with the help of a team from Cincinnati and is going to learn to drive a tractor.

He says the volunteer effort from the thousands of people across the nation has been inspiring.  “Just seeing people come in, taking their time off is absolutely amazing,” remarked Roe.

(Note: Stewart McKenzie is the 6:00 p.m. producer for CBS 11 News. He is part of a local volunteer group that traveled to Joplin this week to help with the relief efforts. While helping with those efforts, he is also provide reports on the work that is underway and the people of Joplin who are recovering from the killer tornado.)