Nov 26
Regan Emkes, Senior in Agricultural Communications

“You’re not going to believe what it looks like when you come upstairs…”

This was the first thing my dad said to me after he came down to our basement, soaking wet from holding on for his life during the tornado.

My first reaction was that I started sobbing to the point where I almost threw up. It was still pouring down rain when I walked outside to see my garage taken off of my house, our front porch gone, all of the windows on our house blown in, and my car had a lawnmower lodged into its side. It’s one of those things where you always hear “severe weather,” but you never actually think it will happen to you. It does. It did. My “impossible” came to life.

I can’t help but notice that through all of this “impossible” coming to life and reality being really ugly for a lot of people (my family being some of the luckier ones in this disaster), how many people stepped up to the plate. I went from sobbing thinking, “Why us?” to sobbing thinking, “I can’t believe how lucky we are.”

The very first thing I read that made me turn into a complete mess again was to see that there was a moment of silence at the Illinois Men’s Basketball Game on Sunday night for all the towns affected by the tornadoes. It made me feel incredibly thankful and lucky to be an Illini and a member of the Orange Krush Organization.

Through all of this I can’t help but have a full heart with all the love and support coming from everywhere. Most comes from my family and friends, but the rest keeps coming from those organizations, clubs, and even the College of ACES and College of Media that have become my family and friends in this short time I’ve been at the University of Illinois. The generosity and concern is overwhelming really. I got emails from my boss in the ACES Career Services late Sunday afternoon (while she wasn’t even at work, mind you) checking to make sure we were all okay and to see if there was anything she could do to help. My sorority took a vote at our chapter meeting the other night to raise money to donate and it passed unanimously. My academic advisor emailed me Monday morning inquiring about my family and if she could help. My Dean in ACES stopped in to chat with me about everything. All my instructors have been extremely understanding, and even a club that I wasn’t exclusively involved with at Parkland, the Parkland Ag Club, made sure to message me asking how they could help before they had their meeting to organize their volunteer efforts. We have actually had to turn away help…it’s been crazy.

This is just the help that’s been provided to me and my family. There’s lots more people who are selflessly wanting to help everyone else in town in whatever way and it is incredible. Without skipping a beat, there were people hauling in their loaders, boomers, hi-hos, skid-steers, chainsaws, and trucks to help clean up the mess on Sunday. Churches started organizing donations for the relief efforts within hours of this happening. People made Facebook pages to keep volunteers, donors, and families informed of upcoming events, lost pets/personal belongings, and ways people are wanting to help. United Way and The Red Cross have been in charge of organizing volunteer efforts at Gordyville all week and they’re doing a fantastic job. Gordyville has really come through for our town (not that I had any doubts about them in the first place) as the Gifford headquarters through this disaster. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church has been preparing meals for families and volunteers every day while also collecting and organizing donations of food, clothing, and water. Gifford is such a strong community and seeing everyone come together in this time of turmoil is nothing shy of amazing. I couldn’t be more proud of my small town.

Finally, I’ll get to my point of this post. Thankfulness. No matter what your situation, there is always, always, always something to be thankful for. Count your blessings, ladies and gentlemen. Even though life is a physical and emotional roller-coaster for a lot of people across the state of Illinois, we can all agree on one thing. Life is something to be thankful for every day. We can rebuild, we can relocate, we can take out loans, but we cannot get life back once it is taken. Say your prayers, keep everyone in your thoughts, and help where you can.

This is going to be a long road, but I’m ever so thankful for the chance to take it.

Regans car
Walking out to inspect the damage after the tornado in Gifford.