Pathways to Emotional Healing

by Michael Stephan, Heart of Illinois United Way

A year after the November 2013 tornado in Tazewell County, central Illinois residents continue to unite in support of their neighbors, family, friends and coworkers who lost their homes.

Within seconds of the storm, families and neighbors trudged through debris to help others recover from the destruction. Survival instinct surfaced within some, while others remained paralyzed in shock. Parents cradled children, teenagers searched for friends, emergency rescue teams were alert and active, shelters opened, community leaders launched communication plans, schools responded, and organizations served those in need with open arms.

The central Illinois community is excited to see the physical rebuilding of homes this past year. But, we must pay attention to the emotional journey of those whose lives were uprooted that day. They feel fear each time the skies darken or the winds blow strongly. They hear crying from students and children when the emergency preparedness sirens sound, and they continue to feel vulnerable when life’s circumstances seem out of their control.

Emotional healing after a natural disaster—or any traumatic event—is a journey that is unique to each individual. In the days and weeks immediately following last year's tornado, the United Way and our partner health and human care agencies identified a recurring need for a way to provide concise strategies that help survivors with short- and long-term calming and coping skills.

Researching local and national sources for social/emotional assistance after a natural disaster and finding very limited resources for survivors, the Heart of Illinois United Way established a diverse volunteer committee that included area educators, psychologists, counselors and survivors to identify and respond to local emotional health needs. After several months of talking with survivors of all ages about what their immediate and continued needs were after the tornado, the organization produced a book, Rebuilding Hope After a Natural Disaster: Pathways to Emotional Healing and Recovery.

The purpose of this book is to provide valuable assistance to survivors, caregivers and support groups. Included are personal, firsthand stories; emotional recovery strategies; and resources for a variety of post-disaster time periods and age groups. Rebuilding Hope After a Natural Disaster is meant to serve as an effective tool offering emotional support during the healing process, to help communities recover, and ultimately, to rebuild hope.

Coping strategies are presented for adults, caregivers for children, and adolescents and focus on the first 72 hours after a natural disaster, the first three to six weeks, the first three to six months, and six months and beyond. Additional resources include post-disaster emotional recovery suggestions, a guide to legal services, and contact information for the Heart of Illinois 2-1-1 call center. iBi

For more information or to download a copy of Rebuilding Hope After a Natural Disaster: Pathways to Emotional Healing and Recovery, visit hoiunitedway.org/tornadorelief.

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