By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Long-time USA Swimming corporate partner Phillips 66 has been a sponsor since 1973 and involved in the sport overall for seven decades. Today, Phillips 66 believes they can improve lives through energy, and in that spirit, usaswimming.org is highlighting swimmers of all levels who have benefited from Phillips 66's contribution and chosen to give back to the sport of swimming or to their community.
Hailing from the East Coast, Jeff Allen has seen his fair share of hurricanes in his lifetime, but it wasn’t until he moved to Oklahoma to lead the Phillips 66 Splash Club in Bartlesville that he saw the quick, destruction of a tornado.
“I saw first-hand the devastation that happened in Joplin, Mo., two years ago and was just awe-struck,” said Allen, who relocated from Connecticut to Oklahoma three years ago. “That storm went right over my house, so we were fortunate. It looked like Joplin had been hit by a nuclear bomb.
“I was at Ground Zero shortly after 9-11, and the destruction I saw in Joplin rivaled that in New York City. You could see and feel the pain and suffering of everyone affected. It leaves a lasting impression.”
Fast –forward two years almost to the date, and Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City, was hit by a tornado. In the aftermath, 24 people had lost their lives, including 10 children nearing the end of the school year at two elementary schools. It was the second tornado to devastate the community since 1999.
When Allen and his 75-plus club swimmers living two-plus hours north of Moore learned of the impact upon the community and its need for help to recover and rebuild, they assembled a small team to make the trip and lend a few hands.
“A few of the kids expressed an interest in wanting to help out in some way, so we decided to drive up and see where we could be most helpful,” Allen said. “First, we called the Red Cross to see what we could do to help, and then we learned what they needed was people to come to the community to help in various ways. I was really impressed with their desire to want to help.”
A month after the tornado, Allen and nine of his swimmers traveled to Moore ready to do whatever was requested to help out and make an impact. They helped at a house damaged by the tornado, clearing debris and hauling materials as needed.
Incidentally, the house was located across the street from one of the elementary schools hit by the tornado.
“There were so many well-wishes there at the school that they were visible from across the street,” Allen said. “Flowers, stuffed animals, posters of support – it was very powerful to see.”
During their two hours working on the house, they learned from a church group that help was needed at nearby Hillsdale Free Baptist College, so they found their way there and were eager to lend a hand as needed.
“The college wasn’t impacted by the tornado, but they had opened up the gymnasium as a sort of Wal-Mart where people impacted by the tornado could go and get items they needed,” Allen said. “A local nursery had donated trees and shrubs, and they needed help planting them in town, so we volunteered to help with that.
“The kids had a great time working together to plant more than 30 shrubs. This was a great opportunity for them to make a connection with another community, see how fortunate they are and really appreciate their lives. It definitely made an impact on them.”
With the project completed and the day coming to a close, Allen and his nine charges – Alex Ward, Kyle Ward, Grace Fodor, Peyton Stambeck, Aaron Stanek, Leon Faulk, Delaney Shipman, Emily Giovannetti, and Mason McCaulry – started the ride back home to Bartlesville.
Allen said most of the conversation centered around the happenings of the day and inspired his team members to want to do more in their own community moving forward.
“All they talked about was what a good feeling they had to be able to help somebody else,” Allen said. “I know they left with a greater appreciation for what they have.
“We’re sponsored by an organization – Phillips 66 – that is very much about giving back, and our team does a variety of things during the year to support this mission in our community,” Allen said. “We walk streets picking up trash in neighborhoods as part of Street Sweepers, and we also do work to support the Mary Martha Outreach program (provides food, clothing and other services) in our community. It’s our goal to give back whenever we can.”