Last updated on July 6, 2022
The days were long and intense. There weren’t easy answers. After all, it’s hard to provide comfort to a community that is still reeling from a senseless tragedy.
Friday, June 24, marked one month since the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School left 19 students and two teachers dead in Uvalde, a town of 15,000 about 85 miles west of San Antonio.
“There is no simple path forward of healing,” said David Thompson, a counselor at El Centro who recently returned from a week-long visit providing crisis support to the community.
“The community is so interconnected with the complexity of the situation … (it) being in the headlines constantly, even still, just left a lot of raw emotion out there.”
Thompson served on a four-member team as a trained professional by the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) Crisis Team. They made the 90-minute trek from San Antonio to Uvalde’s Together Resiliency Center for eight consecutive days, helping an average of 70-80 people per day. The peak was 129 people using their services one day.
Thompson can’t share too many details about the conversations with residents, but most concerns centered on the overall safety of the town.
“I’m not feeling safe going to the grocery store. I’m not sure if I want to send my kids to school in the fall. I need to hear some reassurances that our kids are going to be safe,” Thompson said. “These are all normal trauma responses after an event like this. Speaking with mental health professionals, or even with us as NOVA responders, it’s important for us to normalize that for them to say, ‘Of course you’re going to feel this way. If you weren’t feeling this way, that would be abnormal. You get to feel this way, but it’s not forever. Here’s what you can do to help yourself, here’s what services we’re offering to help you during this time.’”
People handle tragedies of this magnitude in different ways. Recovery can take a long time. Sometimes it’s years before people are comfortable discussing their experiences.
That’s why Thompson is heartened that the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center will become a permanent place for that community. Yes, progress has been made in mental health issues becoming less of a stigma, but it still exists.
Questions inevitably arise following traumatic events. People are bound to ask why they need help now? Isn’t this something I can handle on my own?
“We recognize there’s still a stigma to talk about mental health,” Thompson said. “Sometimes, people think that equals we’re helpless or we can’t handle things. But it’s time to go see somebody after experiencing a difficulty, after something traumatic, when our sense of safety is jeopardized. Just like you’d go to the doctor after a bout of something, we can view mental health in the same way.”
On a personal level, Thompson felt called to assist the Uvalde community in any way possible. Not only is this something he’s trained in, he’s a father with elementary school-aged children.
He plans to make more trips to help, too. He’ll be moving closer to the Uvalde community later this summer, as he’s been accepted into the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Counselor Education and Supervision Ph.D. program. He’ll start that program in the fall.
“This did feel like something I wanted to respond to personally,” said Thompson, who started as a part-time counselor at the Richland Campus in January 2016 before moving to El Centro on a full-time basis in Fall 2017.
“It’s not quite in the backyard of the community I’m moving to, but I have felt a calling to continue to respond in whatever ways I can while I’m starting this program.
“Yes, I’m leaving Dallas College, but this is kind of bridge to bring what I developed as a professional here and put it to use in this next chapter for me.”
Finally, Thompson encouraged staff, faculty and students to attend one of the Mental Health First Aid Training sessions put on by Dallas College’s Counseling and Psychological Services. It’s a virtual workshop with upcoming sessions on July 8, July 15 and July 22.