Update: September 24th, Dr. Lorrie Slater
STRENGTH AFTER THE STORM – TEXAS: POST HURRICANE HARVEY
The amount of debris and devastation in Rockport, TX and Port Aransas, TX is overwhelming but the people who are here are truly amazing. Today we spoke with government officials who are trying to offer help and logistics for all the donations, visiting volunteers, and local people who are affected by Hurricane Harvey. We met with people who came from Louisiana offering food to those in need. We spoke with grateful, hungry people who were glad to have a good meal and a shady place to rest. We went to the tent city where displaced people are living in tents because they have nowhere else to go. We took the ferry to Port Aransas and spoke with locals and volunteers who were thankful for the ability to offer a hand and the generosity of strangers.
In each place we heard stories of fear and survival, loss and hope, of loneliness and community. I am humbled by the privilege to sit or stand and receive their stories, to spend just a moment and be invited into the privacy of their pain. I am also in humbled by their fierce determination and strength. Dr. Snyder and I spoke with a government official who was working at the distribution center today. She and her family had moved to Port Aransas just two weeks before Harvey hit and lost her home along with most of the contents. With tears in her eyes she shared of the struggle to remain strong for her family and community. This is why we’re here! We came for people like this, who need a listening ear and a safe place to rest their burdens. I am thankful for the privilege to hear her story and give her the opportunity to rest for a moment. The phrase that I have heard the most in my time here is, ‘God is Good’. These Texans continue to see His goodness in times of devastation and loss. I can learn much from them.
Update: September 24th, Dr. Bill McGee
RESILIENT TEXAS – POST HURRICANE HARVEY
I met Jim (not his real name) in the camp set up for those who had nothing before Harvey. The hurricane was just the most recent horrible event for him. In the past five weeks his mother had died, he was evicted from his apartment, was dropped in the camp, and survived Harvey. His childhood and adolescence were successions of various physical and emotional abuse and neglect, yet he was holding on to the sometimes elusive thing we call hope. He mostly wanted someone who would listen to him. He honored me with his story.
Jim is one of those who, despite his history and succession of losses, holds onto the hope that life will get better. He holds onto the hope that he will get better.
There are others that I have been privileged to encounter and interact with. The high school coach who brought students from a rival school to hand out food and drinks because they wanted to do something that made a difference for those who lost in the hurricane. The restaurant owner who gave out thousands of good Texas barbecue dinners to his neighbors at no cost, and who continues to provide good, free dinners to first responders. The couple that stopped us at the traffic intersection to ask where they could volunteer; and on and on and on….
I am here with my team to provide emotional support for victims of Harvey. What I find are people who have put their lives on hold to help others. I have to continually remind myself that my role is to be a support; to be a part of a much larger community of caring, concerned, resilient people from all over this country: from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia, Minnesota, Wyoming, Canada, and so many other places. People who are proud to call each other friends.
Update: September 19th, Mary McNaughton-Cassill
Green Cross Team 2 has completed their final day together in Rockport. Some of us leave tomorrow to return to our daily routines, and others head home on Thursday. Meanwhile a new team of 4 trauma specialists will be arriving from Georgia to take up the baton. But, just as Rockport has been changed by Hurricane Harvey we have been changed by our time here. We have been reminded that despite all the bad things we see on the news the world is full of kind and caring people who want to help each other. We have also noticed that no matter how much people have lost they still want to be able to help others, and to laugh. That’s why we couldn’t quit laughing when someone jokingly looked at our vests as we stood up in a restaurant and quipped “Green Cross, what are you, Red Cross for plants? We all hope that the next time we come back to Rockport we won’t be wearing green vests, we will be here to enjoy this beautiful town.
Update: September 18th, Mary McNaughton-Cassill
"THE CALM DOWN TEAM"
We woke this morning to light rain, and no electricity. Although it eventually came back on, it again reminded us of how tenuous the trappings of modern life really are. Without power we had to drive around town to find food and coffee, because most of the restaurants are still closed. Our team rotates out in a few days, so we know we will be slotting back into normal lives, but the residents of the Texas Gulf Coast won’t have that luxury for months or even years. And yet, we will miss the sense of purpose and camaraderie we have shared here. As members of the military know, adversity causes stress, but also forges strong bonds. We are at the point now where people in town recognize and call us over when they see us. State troopers, police officers and FEMA and TEMAT representatives ask for our help, and we have been asked to do a community presentation on how parents can help their kids cope with stress. We knew we were truly a part of the solution when someone in town suggested that we just start calling ourselves the Calm Down Team!
Update: September 17th, Mary McNaughton
HOME SWEET HOME
We trapped and killed a rat tonight, behind the refrigerator in the house where we are staying. And yet, here in Rockport we are spending our nights in relative luxury. For our headquarters, Green Cross is renting a home that is still being repaired from the storm. The roof of the carport is gone, windows have been replaced, and there are holes in the walls covered with duct tape, but it is structurally sound. The same cannot be said for many other buildings in this community. Approximately 35% of the buildings in Rockport have been totally destroyed, and far more damaged. When you are living in a nice clean, watertight, air-conditioned home watching the world through your TV it is easy to forget how quickly things can change. However, nature can certainly remind us that we are less in control than we think. The residents we have spoken to who rode out the hurricane report that they spent hours clutching their family members and wondering if they would survive. Since then they have spent most of their energy figuring out how to meet their basic needs and rebuild their lives. And they all want someone to hear their stories, to validate their feelings, and to remind them that their lives matter, and that you make the best decisions you can when your life is on the line. We felt badly about taking an animal’s life, but disasters have a way of stripping away the nonessential things in life, and making you recognize that life is fragile, and messy, and we all have to work together to do what needs to be done.
Update: September 16th, Mary McNaughton
CHAOS DOESN'T HAVE TO CONTROL YOU
The members of our Green Cross Response Team spent the day working with people at Disaster Distribution shelters, in Rockport, Copano Bay, and Port Aransas. They all feature piles of cleaning supplies, canned and dry food, bottles of water, and people who wish they never had to hear the word Harvey again. And everywhere we went we heard people comment that “their minds weren’t working right” or they “just couldn’t think” or “they were too tired to remember what they came to do.” Of course we have all felt that way before, but the sense of being confused and disorganized is certainly exacerbated when the town you live in and love, no longer looks the way it did a month ago. It is hard to think clearly when sagging buildings and piles of debris make it clear that your world has been upended. Clearly, it will take time to restore order from the chaos, but in the meantime creating a routine, getting enough sleep, and taking breaks to relax can all help. We can’t always manage our environment, but we can choose how we think and respond to the challenges we face. The brain, like the rest of our body, takes energy to work properly, and works better when we treat it well, so don’t forget to rest you mind as well as your muscles!
Update: September 15th, Mary McNaughton
It is hot, and getting hotter here in Rockport. Although the ground is still strewn with branches, sheets of metal, and water soaked furniture the leaves are starting to come out on the trees and plants are blooming again. There are signs that the town is coming back to life as well. HEB and Walmart are open, although their hours are limited and neither building came through the storm unscathed. Smaller businesses are starting to serve food again, and everywhere you go you hear the sound of saws and hammers. But many of the town’s volunteers and residents are finding it hard to see the flowers for the weeds.
There is actually a pattern to disaster recovery. In the early stages people are caught up in the struggle to survive, and encouraged by stories of sacrifice and heroism. But as reality sets in people get frustrated, by the slow pace of recovery, and how hard it is to brush your teeth when you don’t have power, water, or an intact house. That’s when having the chance to talk to someone who can help you step back, alter your perspective, and see the larger picture matters.
And, that’s where Green Cross comes in. Our green vests stand out as we spend time talking to people who are standing in line to get cleaning supplies, waiting for food, or trying to clean up their yards. While commiserating with their losses we are also able to help them realize that their sadness and frustration are normal, that establishing new routines can be very helpful, and that sleep and self-care are critical. In a town where every conversation involves a discussion of what the insurance or FEMA inspector said about the structural integrity of your residence we had to laugh when a man in Dairy Queen heard that we do Disaster Stress Management and joked “is that people stress you are talking about?”
Update: September 14th, Mary McNaughton
HARVEY'S MELTING POT
On Day 20 after Hurricane Harvey made land in Rockport Texas, the town resembles a Beehive that has been tipped upside down and shaken. The streets are lined with piles of discarded carpet, furniture, and tree branches. Even some of the seemingly indestructible palm trees were uprooted, or bent, and roofs all over town sport blue plastic tarps. In the meantime, people everywhere are searching for mementos of their lives in the rubble, and sharing stories of what it was like to ride out the storm in their home, or to return to see what was left.
In a situation like this, emotions are close to the surface. People tear up while laughing, and say they are fine when their body language indicates anything but… However there is also a tremendous sense of purpose. People are handing out bottled water on every corner, sorting truckloads of supplies, and cooking hotdogs and hamburgers for total strangers. We quickly learned to ask people if they are residents, workers or volunteers, but offered all of them bottled water, lifesaver candies, and a listening ear. As disasters proceed, people get tired, tempers fray, and recovery seems far away. Being grateful to be alive doesn’t obviate the pain of realizing that your home has blown away, and serving 1000 lunches today doesn’t mean that there won’t be hungry people tomorrow. However, the resilience and resourcefulness of Rockport aren’t going anywhere. As I stood on the edge of a Relief Center created and staffed by the property owners who themselves had just lost their business, one of the workers looked at me and said “This is the Melting Pot right here, we are all Americans.”
Update: September 13, Nathan Ray
CARRYING THE WORK FORWARD
How do Green Cross volunteers keep the work going when teams and individuals change? Our Rockport Team 2 is providing an excellent example. The four person team came into town and met with the assessment team for a briefing & orientation, before jumping straight into fieldwork together.
Since then, Team 2 has continued to work with organizations and individuals to whom they were introduced, but have also expanded their reach into the community by using their own interests and strengths to forge new relationships and create more opportunities.
Update: September 14, Dr. Mary Schoenfeldt
INTERVENTION BY ICE CREAM???? NOW THAT'S A NOVELTY
You just never know what's going to make a difference when you are providing crisis intervention and disaster stress management. We rang bells and drove slowly through the streets of a severely impacted neighborhood. Some people looked at us strangely, others came running and a few stood back till they could figure out what was going on. The neighbors here are helping and looking out for one another. When we stopped, we pulled out a cooler filled with ICE CREAM BARS!!! Now we had their full attention. We served ice cream... and listened while a 9 year old wished hurricanes weren't real, we talked to a man about pride... about how helpless it feels when you've lost everything and need to accept help from others, we helped a woman understand why her friend was standing in the middle of a collapsed condo carefully putting her cooking spices in a packing box so she felt like she had some control over something and then she herself talked about throwing up from being stressed, and we gave resources and education to the woman who had some damage to her home but lost her job because their building collapsed. And through it all... people laughed, cried and licked that melting ice cream like they did when they were children and the world felt more predictable and safe. You may not find it written in text books... but this is how you do Field Traumatology and Psychological First Aid when you are part of Green Cross Academy of Traumatology. Thank you to our supporters who donated through www.greencross.org to help buy the ice cream. This neighborhood asked us to say thank you for them! Please share to educate others and peruse our website so we can buy more ice cream!!
Update: September 14th, Nathan Ray
Hurricane Harvey deployment day 6 - If you tried to tell me a few months ago that I would spend my birthday deployed in South Texas doing disaster stress management... I probably would have been more prepared, lol!
Started today with a Starbucks, plus making sure we had plenty of flyers & handouts, then joined Mary Schoenfeldt & Sherry in Rockport. They had just secured housing for our relief team, which was coming into town at noon. Yesterday, we found out the housing we had lined up wouldn't work because of additional damage that hadn't been noted previously, so it was quite a scramble!
We met with the 4 Green Cross members and spent a few hours discussing our experiences, the contacts that have been made, logistics, and providing some "just in time" training. Then we hit the field. The team split to cover multiple areas & people around the city. I connected our former EMT with the Fire Department, showed him where other agencies & resources could be found around town, and we identified several churches with which he could connect.
In the evening the team came back together at the Dairy Queen to pick up ice cream treats for our community meeting in Copana Heights, the neighborhood I've talked about before. Using a big cooler loaned by the Fire Department, we took nearly 100 novelty treats with us! Residents had been watching for our arrival and we had over 20 neighbors who joined us for ice cream, stress management education, and some one-on-one interventions. My heart strings were pulled when a 9-year told me "I just wish hurricanes weren't real." We talked about how bad things sometimes happen, but that good things could come out of them.
Our initial team heads home tomorrow after we spend a little more time with the incoming team in the morning. I am really ready to go home AND I wish I could stay for another week or two. Rockport and it's residents have taken a piece of my heart.
Update: September 12th, Dr. Mary Schoenfeldt, Green Cross President
"DIGNITY AMONG THE DEBRIS"
Hurricane Harvey couldn't take everything. It may have taken boats, birdfeeders, bedrooms, and beautiful homes... but not what matters most...spirit and dignity. By my estimation, the town of Rockport Texas has close to 90% of homes with damage. More than half completely destroyed. Piles and piles of debris. And amid the debris, is DIGNITY. We visited a middle class neighborhood with mostly mobile homes structures still without power and water. There we met an artist who's art studio had collapsed. She talked about trauma and recovery and described her signature piece of art... a woman figure coming out of a gnarled and twisted tree. We met a 90 year old man sitting on his porch next to a slightly off kilter 30 foot long trailer where he and his wife rode out the storm. When we talked about being afraid .. he just snorted and said "I'm a Korean War Veteran, there is nothing that can compare to that". And we spent more than an hour with Connie, known to the neighbors as "the woman on the corner who is sleeping outside on an air mattress". She has two trailers tipped over so the view from her beautifully groomed yard is the underbelly and the wheels. She has created an oasis under a small tree with an air mattress, two pink (so they would be color coordinated) blankets she got from a donation center, an ice chest with melted ice, a bed for her dog and 2 tattered lawn chairs. When we met her she had just fixed herself her evening cocktail in a beautiful tall plastic glass and was enjoying watching the birds and the evening sky. Each of these people had catches in their throat and tears in their eyes as our Green Cross Team talked to them. And each expressed gratitude for the time and conversation that had no other agenda than to talk with them and hear their stories. Our team is thankful to be here and meet these people. With each we asked if there was anything in particular we could bring them on our next visit.. to our surprise 2/3 said ICE CREAM !!! So we will find an ice chest, buy some ice, stock it with ice cream bars and go back to give the neighborhood a surprise Ice Cream Social. If your heart is as touched as ours ... PLEASE support us and them...by donating to Green Cross, and designate it to Harvey Deployment. And please share this post with your friends. We promise to buy ice cream, continue listening and help all the people of Rockport find dignity again.
Update: September 10th, Dr. Mary Schoenfeldt, Green Cross President
"HURRICANES DON'T CARE ABOUT HUNDRED DOLLAR HAIRCUTS"
"Old pickups, battered mini vans, luxury cars, toy hauler trucks... they are all in the same line today... waiting to pick up new socks, canned food, towels, baby formula, bleach and bottled water. This disaster was a "leveler" .. literally and figuratively. Green Cross trained team is talking to people in line ... "selling" cold water. The price? A smile, a story of gratitude or thankfulness." The people are more than willing to pay!! When we hand out water and talk... what are we really doing? Psychological First Aid, Disaster Stress Management and Cognitive Reframe. We are taking them from being emotionally "crispy" to a place that will let them keep moving towards recovery. Many will return later to help someone else. Our website, www.greencross.org is the place to learn more, maybe join us and help financially support our volunteer expenses so we can keep doing what we are doing. Please donate, share with your friends and ask them to like our Facebook page."
Update: September 8th, Dr. Mary Schoenfeldt, Green Cross President
"First deployment for Harvey, certainly won't be the last. Arrived in Corpus Christi. Tomorrow we will start to organize and assess how we can help with supporting those so heavily impacted here. Have already heard the stories of ... "thank you for being here, how can I reassure my daughter we are all safe now?" And the one that goes like this... "I'm an attorney and my house was just 5 miles from the eye... I'm exhausted and we've just started the clean up, not sure when I will be able to get back to work".
I tell them they aren't alone. Green Cross volunteers can help. You can help too by sharing this post and donating to help defray expenses so Green Cross can send more teams."
Update: September 7th, Dr. Mary Schoenfeldt, Green Cross President
"In Rockport Texas. The eye of Harvey hit this community outside Corpus Christi. I followed a line of trucks this morning going to Rockport where there is no power, water or sanitation. The trucks were filled with heavy equipment, generators, chain saws and determined faces. When I left, I fell in line with trailers full of broken sheet rock, torn roofing materials, refrigerators that were tied shut and exhausted faces. I am glad Green Cross Academy of Traumatology is here. We need your help to take the financial pressure off those who can come and make a difference."