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But on Wednesday night, the 17-year-old stood among more than 1,000 Henryville students and town residents at a sold-out KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, sharing the limelight with top country music group Lady Antebellum at a packed concert held to benefit the stricken rural community.

After everything the town went through, Cody said, the event and concert - which raised $235,000 - was " a huge honor. It shows how much people care and are willing to help."

It was Henryville High's payoff after its plight helped it win Lady Antebellum's "Own the Night" contest, which offered a school a prom concert.

Although the Grammy-winning band couldn't make Henryville's prom, the school's 188 juniors and seniors and their dates attended a private "mini-prom" Wednesday before the fund-raising concert that grew out of the winning contest entry.

Wearing their best ties and dresses in a high-end party room overlooking the Ohio River, the Henryville students danced to a disc jockey's tunes before the band's arrival, cheering a short performance led by singer Hillary Scott.

Band members said they were struck by the students' resilience after the tragedy, and impressed by the supportive entries from other schools, including rival Silver Creek High in Sellersburg, Ind.

"Each and every one of you have inspired us," Scott told the students at the prom event, during which they took requests and danced with some of the students.

Earlier in the day, the Nashville-based band toured the damaged Henryville Junior-Senior High School, which is being rebuilt and expected to reopen in August. Students are attending temporary schools. Scott called it "heartbreaking" and "inspiring."

Apart from raising money for the town, band member Dave Haywood said he hoped to put "a big ol' smile on their faces" so they could "escape from a lot of the hardships for a night."

Later, the trio performed before a packed crowd that included many Henryville residents scattered by the devastating tornado, with proceeds benefiting the New Hope Services/Indiana Bankers Association Disaster Relief Fund. The artists said they were pleased that their original idea to "crash a prom" grew into something that ranked among their most meaningful shows.

Each of Henryville's juniors and seniors received five tickets for floor seating at the show. The juniors and seniors at Silver Creek, the rival Clark County school that nominated Henryville, each received one ticket.

"This is a chance for all of us to celebrate after dealing with so much adversity," said high school principal Troy Albert.

Henryville suffered intense damage in the March 2 tornado outbreak, which destroyed hundreds of homes in Southern Indiana and Kentucky, killing 35 people and injuring many others.

Today, the recovery is beginning to get under way as construction workers could be seen across town raising new wood frames, pouring concrete for new foundations and hammering up bare siding.

"I think by the end of summer, come fall, we'll be seeing houses completed, maybe a few more trees planted and replaced, and the school will be reopened," said Monroe Township Trustee Allen Bottorff, who attended the concert with his high school children Tanner and Drew.

As of early May, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved more than $1.5 million in disaster expenses for residents in six Southern Indiana counties, along with $2.2 million in loans for homeowners, businesses and others.

But plenty are still struggling to finalize red tape to get insurance claims paid, Bottorff said. Many residents are still living in relatives' homes or in motels, he said. And for the 40 percent to 50 percent of residents without insurance, recovery is more distant, particularly for those who don't qualify for government loans.

"Yes, it's wonderful that some of the town is being rebuilt, but in some areas no progress has been made," said Henryville resident Jennifer McConahay, who couldn't make the concert but said a charity is helping her rebuild her uninsured home.

Pastor Rich Cheek, who leads March 2 Recovery, a coalition of church and charitable groups, said his church and other groups are working to build 100 modest $29,000 homes for those in need. But only about eight are under construction, as funds are still being raised, he said.

Cheek's Henryville Community Church is still serving 400 hot meals a day to residents and workers. At a nearby warehouse filled with donated supplies, people still come in daily for everything from toiletries to dog food to men's shoes.

He said the tornadoes struck a staggering financial blow to families who had relatively little to begin with and worked low-paying jobs. That was echoed by Sandra Lefebvre, a counselor at a Catholic Charities trailer set up in Henryville, who said residents still come each day struggling with the family strains of a long, slow recovery from losing everything.

"It's causing some families all kinds of problems," she said. "The recovery is really going to take two years."

Officials say summer is likely to bring a new influx of volunteers, still numbering 60 a day through the town's volunteer center, which will speed construction and rebuilding - if enough housing can be found for them.

But Wednesday night, all that was forgotten, as students and school staff were besieged by TV cameras and rubbing elbows with the stars.

"It's unbelievable that they'd do this for us," said 18-year-old senior Kristi Powers.

Written by Chris Kenning - The Courier-Journal

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