In early September 2021, Amie Leigh, director of public health initiatives at SEI, went to southern Louisiana to assist with first-wave deployment in response to Hurricane Ida. While there, she recognized that the clean-up process would take months, if not years, and the people affected would eventually need more than water and food. She developed a relationship with the District Attorney’s office in Lafourche Parish and began planting the seed to later bring a team of qualified individuals to provide mental health support to residents still experiencing stress and trauma as a result of this significant natural disaster.
On December 10, a team of nine from the SEI community made its way to south Louisiana: staff members Amie Leigh, Kianna Pierson, and Paul Beverly, and volunteers Debbra Haven, SEP, SE Assistant, Staten Island, NY; Brittany McManamey, SE Advanced student, Winooski, VT; Inge Sengelmann, SEP, SE Assistant, Golden, CO; Joanne McKee, SEP, SE Assistant, Aurora, IL; Carol Hodson, SE Advanced student, St. Louis, MO; and Leigh Conant, SEP, SE Assistant, New Orleans, LA. The team went to Lafourche Parrish to take part in a locally organized wellness fair, which more than 2,000 community members attended. The SEI team provided psychosocial support, brief trainings on crisis intervention skills, and ran games for children. The intensive on-the-ground experience enabled the group to pilot-test concepts and techniques being planned for SEI’s Crisis Stabilization and Safety (CSS) training curriculum currently under development. The team also traveled to Houma, meeting with members of the Houma Nation Tribe and representatives of the Louisiana FEMA Disaster Recovery Center, and later to Grand Isle, one of the southernmost parts of Louisiana, which had been most impacted by Hurricane Ida. In Grand Isle, the team traveled to a camp of FEMA trailers to provide SE-informed therapeutic tools. During four days, the team worked with staff from two parishes, two local churches, and several local non-profits.
“The experience was amazing in so many ways: to witness the devastation three months after the event, the magnitude of the generosity in response to the community’s needs, and the gratitude many expressed for our presence in the face of the most recent disaster—the tornadoes in Kentucky,” says Inge Sengelmann. “’Y’all haven’t already gone to Kentucky?’ they would ask, followed by a warm thank you when told, ‘No, we’re here for you. We haven’t forgotten you.’”
The SEI public health initiatives group will be building a disaster volunteer response roster and guide for future needs. More information will be in a future SE Today and on our social media channels.
Read our press release about this here.