In spite of past traumas, hurricane generates resilience in youth and staff at Devereux Texas
When Hurricane Harvey bore down on Devereux Texas’ campuses last August, the plan to “shelter in place” quickly turned into an unprecedented plan to evacuate.
Devereux’s Victoria and League City campuses were evacuated, and while staff and individuals served at the Victoria campus returned home after several weeks, staff and individuals at the League City campus remained evacuated for months. (To learn more, click here.)
Throughout its programs, Devereux teaches the idea of “resilience” – the ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, misfortune or change.* That concept was taken to unprecedented levels for League City campus’ youth and staff throughout the evacuation – and their eventual return home. Here’s their story …
Relying on past resilience
When the League City campus evacuated to a camp near Waco, Texas, last August, the relocation of all services – educational, clinical, medical/nursing, pharmacy, recreation and food services, plus 100 staff members and 85 youth – was a tremendous undertaking.
“The children and adolescents in our care have already faced incredible trauma in their young lives,” said Devereux Texas Clinical Director Dr. Belgin Tunali. “We were worried that the trauma of the hurricane, flooding and evacuation would trigger more fear and additional difficulties for them, but our fears were unfounded. They did exceptionally well. They utilized all the coping skills they were taught as part of their treatment and focused on resilience, a concept we emphasize in our strength-based programs.”
Devereux Texas employees – many of whom were personally impacted by the hurricane – had to be creative about operating a program, with all its components, in a camp setting. The logistics of feeding, clothing and caring for everyone, along with addressing clinical and medical needs, were top priorities.
“The campground was not a traditional behavioral healthcare facility,” said Devereux Texas Executive Director Pam Reed. “Yet, it was amazing how much we could do with very little, and how the kids’ perspectives seemed to change over time. Children with severe emotional challenges don’t often get to go to a camp environment for a few months – they thrived during our time at camp.”
All team members – including clinicians, nurses, teachers, direct care professionals and the administration team – were present the entire time in Waco, providing the support and reassurance youth needed to effectively deal with the situation. Devereux Texas teams wanted to create a sense of normalcy and, as soon as possible, they focused on recreating all program components and a daily structure for its youth.
“Clinical staff and clients continued all regular therapies (individual, group, family) with increased focus on trauma resolution and expression of self, emotions and cognitions,” noted Tunali. “In addition, the many leisure activities (fishing, swimming, nature walks, sports, museum visits), stress reduction interventions (mindfulness, yoga, guided imagery, breathing techniques), and other expressive therapies (art, music, dancing, photography, cooking) were all effective in boosting mood and strengthening resilience.”
The result: Because of this extraordinary experience, Devereux Texas’ youth fast-tracked various skills gained earlier in their programs at the Devereux campus. “I think our individuals were really impacted by this experience. Instead of dwelling on the negative, they focused on individual and collective strength and resilience. They celebrated their own and each other’s successes in dealing with adversity. They also began demonstrating enhanced empathy skills; for instance, preparing, serving and cleaning-up after meals to assist staff members,” said Reed. “As we were driving on the highway during the evacuation, they saw people helping one another. They quickly realized that they were part of a larger community – and everyone was in the same boat.”
League City today
Thanks to staff from several Devereux centers, supportive community partners, local building contractors and generous donors (including Devereux employees), the League City team returned home in December and rebuilding continues today; work is expected to be completed by the end of March.
“We lost so much in the hurricane, but we are definitely getting back on our feet,” Reed noted. “I’m incredibly proud of our staff, and the individuals we serve, for how well we literally weathered the storm, gained perspective and appreciation for our community, and came out of it even stronger.”
* Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary