March 8, 2012 10:46:43 AM
Nearly a year after a deadly tornado left the Smithville community in shambles, Mississippi's First Lady Deborah Bryant witnessed the process of rebuilding the town, including efforts to associate Smithville with a new image.
Bryant toured the town Wednesday, before appearing at a town hall meeting at First Baptist Church.
Smithville Mayor Gregg Kennedy, who presented her with a symbolic golden shovel, referred to Bryant and the governor as a "great asset" to the state and noted the Smithville Board of Aldermen Tuesday voted to proclaim March 7 as Deborah Bryant Day in Smithville.
"It is my pleasure and honor to be here today," Bryant said, promising Smithville residents her support. "I will do my best to keep your voices heard in Jackson. By the grace of God, you are here today. You will be back to where you are supposed to be, once again. I will see what we can do to help you in any way we can."
Bryant presented Kennedy a check for $2,500, which will be used for an impact study conducted by the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.
"The Stennis Institute has offered to help us with the branding of our town and it is going to cost us $2,500 and we didn't know how we were going to come up with the money," Kennedy said. "The Lord works in mysterious ways."
Kennedy noted the city's efforts to brand itself, since the tornado destroyed eighty percent of the town. The branding is inspired by the city of Greensburg, Kan., which is symbolized by a green leaf.
"We started looking at firms to do this and they were $25,000 and up," he said. "We couldn't afford that. The Stennis Institute stepped in and is going to help us with this process."
Smithville Recovery Manager Michelle Bond said a South Carolina urban planning firm will be creating the brand for the town.
"(Arnett Muldrow and Associates) is the firm that came up with Starkville's brand, 'America's College Town,' which has been very successful," Bond said. "They actually specialize in disaster towns. They have done a lot of that. They come in and see what you have and help you attract businesses."
The Stennis Institute of Government is conducting a meeting in Smithville to determine the town's needs today.
As the one year anniversary of the devastating tornado approaches, Kennedy said, Smithville still lives in the moment.
"We take it one day at a time and one night at a time," he explained.
The first Smithville Memorial Day will be held April 27 to remember the victims of the 2011 tornado.
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