Outreach workers still helping people affected by 2011 flooding

Thursday, January 5, 2012

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Although a new year has begun, flood survivors continue to cope with grief and losses they suffered last year.

"The water is gone, but the recovery takes time," said Phyllis Rowe, team leader for Show-Me Recovery, a crisis counseling program funded by a grant through the Federal Emergency Management System and the Department of Mental Health.

Sponsored by Bootheel Counseling Services in Sikeston, Show-Me Recovery is a team of outreach workers who assist people who have been affected by the recent flooding in New Madrid, Mississippi and Scott counties.

The team's initial visit into flooded communities occurred weeks after the flooding and focused on offering support to individuals.

"We wanted to meet with them and link them to resources," Rowe said. "We've assisted residents in Morehouse, Charleston, Benton, Wyatt -- pretty much anywhere that was flooded."

In addition to Rowe, the team includes outreach crisis counselors Ella Woods and Karen Alcott.

"We went to Morehouse where most of the residents' homes had to be evacuated. We found some people living in campers and they needed resources for food and clothes," Woods said.

The counselors said over the last few months, they've talked to families, farmers, land owners, business owners who suffered losses following the flooding.

"Many don't think they should be feeling the way they do, and they don't realize they are not alone," Rowe said.

Local children were affected tremendously, the counselors said.

"Some of the children lost so much. They had to get up in the middle of the night and they lost their toys and clothes in addition to their homes. Some had to change schools," Rowe said.

The crisis counselors make contact in homes and communities not in clinical or office settings. Their services are delivered to the communities and promote resilience, empowerment and recovery.

Dubbing themselves "the Blue Shirt Team," team members are recognized in the community by their blue polo shirts with "BCS" embroidered on the sleeves.

"We're taking a nontraditional approach, going door-to-door to provide information for needed resources, to educate, listen and give them an opportunity to vent and share their feelings," Rowe said.

If residents aren't home, the counselors will hang packets of information on front door knobs for survivors should they need it, Rowe said.

The counselors noted for many of the survivors, who may have spent the last few months in the "adrenaline phase," reality is starting to settle in along with depression and anxiety.

"Now especially during the holidays, many realized they don't have a Christmas tree and ornaments as all of their belongings were lost in the floods and their Christmas trees molded," Rowe said.

In addition for so long, many volunteers and organizations that were present in these communities have now left, Rowe pointed out.

"Some people say they feel like they've been forgotten, and they tell us it's good to know someone cares," Rowe said.

Team members spend anywhere from five to 10 minutes or 15 minutes to an hour with someone, Rowe said.

"We encourage the survivors to find a new normal in their lives because many of them have suffered such a great loss -- not to say life will never get like it was -- but to accept where they are now," Rowe said.

The counselors offer assistance through community outreach and educational services. They help disaster survivors by understanding their current situation and reactions; evaluate their stress levels and management methods; promote the use or development of coping strategies; and encourage connections with other individuals and agencies who may help them in their recovery process.

"It's truly for disaster recovery and flood survivors," said Jennifer Hartlein, director of fund development and public relations at Bootheel Counseling Services in Sikeston.

Individuals who receive assistance from or request contact from the Show-Me Recovery team do not have to be clients of Bootheel Counseling Services, Hartlein said. In addition, individuals' identities can be anonymous, and no files or records are kept.

Hartlein noted this same grant also funds a Joplin-based crisis counseling team to assist Joplin tornado victims.

Rowe noted monthly meetings for flood-stricken communities are being planned.

"The goal is to create cohesion in the community so when the grant is over, they can still generate a need in the community," Rowe said.

However, the counselors said even when the grant is no longer available -- the grant is slated to end in June -- they want the community cohesion to continue.

"We would like to see support is there for them as well as for others," Rowe said.

The counselors also said their focus is to prepare survivors to cope with their feelings and reactions as the one-year anniversary of the floods approaches this spring.

"We have families who have a lot of resilience and bounce back, but we still have families who need help," Rowe said. "Families still have needs."

For more information about Show-Me Recovery, call 573-471-0800 and for emergency mental health issues, contact the 24-hour Mental Health Crisis and Referral line at 1-800-356-5395.

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