#CommunityResilience: Beth Senger, ED of El Paso Center for Children
How have these tragedies in the past month affected your communities and the children, youth and families that you serve?
I think most of the people we've spoken to have expressed the gamut of emotions. Anger, sadness, fear, horror, rage, worry, and uncertainty. Some feel the impact long-term will be less than what we hear from other communities who have been through a mass shooting -- some feel it will be more because of the hate crime nature of the event. Everyone is glad that the perpetrator wasn't from here -- it seems to increase their sense of safety that it "wasn't one of us." At the same time, others know there are those in this community to may be triggered into retaliation or copy-catting. Truly, our opinions, thoughts, and feelings are all over the place.
What is your story?
I was working at home on materials for our accreditation process when the news broke. Because of enormous time pressures, I kept looking at my computer screen, looking at my television, weeping, blowing my nose, thinking to myself "it must be some young white guy," trying to work again...and so on. Then about an hour after it went public, I got a text from one of our federal project officers asking if we were okay. I was so moved by her concern. But her text also woke me up -- I realized that I was in shock and denial. I started e-mailing and texting board members, staff, and friends to see who was accounted for and who wasn't. Then I started having 9/11 flashbacks. Then I was just plain mad -- viscerally livid really -- and have been ever since. I'm a "huera" (white girl) who grew up as part of the minority in El Paso. That someone would come hunt people who "looked like" my husband, my nieces and nephews, my friends, my colleagues, my community....that the spotlight was pointed on our city because of supposedly violent hordes on our doorstep... My brain still spins.
The day after the shooting, on Sunday afternoon, I was having planning conversations with colleagues. Four days after the shooting our agency hosted a conference called "Trauma and Triumph: Border Youth Conference" which ended up next to the family support center set up in our Convention Center to process the victims of the shooting. Since that day, my professional life has been dominated by response group conversations, meetings, recovery planning, and meetings with representatives from the Governor's office, state representatives (including the Governor), representatives from our state funders and from HHSC. I didn't know that when a community has gone through a trauma like this, there are government dollars that go to help with recovery. While my agency will put to good use any of those dollars allocated, it makes me nauseous to think of how well-prepared our systems are to deal with what has become a new norm in our society. And then the Midland gut punch...really, why has the rest of the world got this figured out?
What does community resilience mean to you, your staff and the population you serve at this time and moving forward? In efforts to continue to tirelessly serve your children youth and families after such horrific events, has resilience taken on a new meaning?
Personally and sadly, my resilience has often been measured by how many double-stuff Oreo's are left in the bag. Being able to be tough, bounce back, recover after an experience like this is something I'm afraid I can't speak to. Though I'm on high octane in some venues and in conversations with potential funders and supporters, when taking a moment to respond to these blog questions I realize my bag of Oreo's is running low....
It may be a little early to talk about community resilience, frankly. It's going to hit everyone at different times in different ways. One of my takeaways from visitors and calls with people from other communities is that we can expect at least a 2-year window during which violence, suicide, triggered behavioral health problems, new behavioral health problems should be prepared for. Part of me is in denial about that too.
What words of encouragement would you like to share with your fellow leaders in child welfare across Texas, especially in the wake of these tragedies?
Everyone is inspired by something different. I'm inspired by strategizing...understanding and identifying needs and planning to address them. I'm not sure I can truly "encourage" anyone yet, other than to remind them to know what has always worked for them in the past and turn to those more under stress -- preferably not cookies. If taking a hike or reading or petting your dog -- or strategic planning and grant writing and community organizing are your comforts and strengths then remember that they're still there and rely on them. Also, carry some grace in your pocket. Hard times bring out the best -- and can bring out the worst -- in yourself and those around you. Breathe.