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'Stars of hope' brighten Breezy Point

John Makely / NBC news

John Makely / NBC News

Brightly painted stars appear on the otherwise stark landscape of Breezy Point in a section where over 100 homes burned the night Superstorm Sandy hit.

"Joy," "Hope" "Smile" and "You Got This" are just a few of the inspirational messages sent from children around the country who themselves have been affected by disaster. Stars of Hope is a project started by the New York Says Thank You Foundation, which began in 2007 after founder Jeff Parnes saw the devastation that an F5 tornado inflicted on Greensburg, Kansas. "It literally looked like a bomb. The town was 95 percent destroyed, trees were standing with no leaves, everything was just dirt, and all the families who stayed were living in FEMA trailers south of town," Parnes recalled.

"We were standing there thinking, 'How do you bring color back to the town? How do you bring a sense of community back to the town, and how do you empower the children to be part of that dynamic?' So we just had this wacky idea --what if we paint wood stars and plant them on every corner ... and empower the kids to express through their own creativity their hopes for the future?" asked Parnes.

He gave the town's schoolchildren the basic idea and they took it from there.  "We want you to think of one word that if your friends, family or neighbors were having a bad day and they saw that word, it would put a smile on their face," Parnes said. The kids painted expressions and designs on the stars, and the next day they were planted throughout Greensburg.  "So literally, overnight, this project was able to transform not just the physical landscape, but the emotional landscape."

John Makely / NBC News

John Makely / NBC News

Since then, each town that receives stars paints stars for the next town hit with hardship. It's their way of paying it forward.

About 5,000 more stars are coming to Sandy-hit towns from other communities that have seen their own disasters:  Joplin, Mo.,  Minot, N.D., Grossbeck, Texas.  All have stars in the pipeline, adding to the 2,000 already placed in 14 communities hit by the storm.

"It's about empowering survivors. Kids get it, they have an innate sense of hope." Parnes said.

At least one Breezy Point resident noticed the arrival of the stars this week.  "It's an amazing thing, whoever is doing it.  It gives you hope… each message is just great," said Timothy Brennan, an ironworker whose home was destroyed in the fire, as he was digging through the debris of an elderly neighbor's house looking for keepsakes. "You may have a tear, but you can have a smile also. "

John Makely / NBC News

Shine in the Darkness...Like a Star of Hope. One of 2,000 Stars of Hope placed throughout Sandy-affected areas.

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