Fort Dodge women provide mental health support to Parkersburg tornado
By KARA KOCZUR, Globe staff reporter
June 26, 2008
Uprooted trees, piles of rubble and open foundations were some of the things
employees from Catholic Social Services in Fort Dodge saw when they arrived in
Parkersburg one week after a deadly tornado ripped through the town.
"Instead of broken houses there were just piles of broken lumber and
trees," said Deanne Archer, one of the therapists. "Nothing was
recognizable as anything in the areas that were the worst."
Archer and two co-workers were in Parkersburg June 1 offering mental health
support to those affected by the May 25 tornado that killed 7 people. They
worked from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with the Red Cross speaking with adults,
children and volunteers who were either in the feeding tent or distribution
tent, where people could get rakes, shovels and other supplies.
"We basically just offered our support, our encouragement and our time
to anyone who felt the need to talk," said Susan Rohden, a social worker
therapist who also made the trip to Parkersburg. Rohden is the branch director
of the Fort Dodge Catholic Charities office.
It gave those affected the chance to talk to someone who wasn't going through
the same thing and to allow someone else to carry their emotional burden for a
little while, Archer said.
For Emily McCullough, the day was emotionally exhausting and she said it was
beneficial that the women went together. The thing that impacted her the most
and wore on her throughout the day, was the look on people's faces, she said.
"They could talk just fine and they didn't express a lot of emotion, but
you could just see in their eyes how sad they were and how they were really in
shock," said McCullough, another therapist. "There were still a lot of
The women also set up a play area for kids near the distribution tent and set
out bouncy balls they had brought along, as well as a long piece of paper and
markers for kids to create a "graffiti wall." The children were having
some different behaviors and challenges, Rohden said, because they had gone
through the experience as well.
"A lot of the families had questions about their kids [because] the kids
were down in the basement with their parents when the tornado went over and then
they came out to nothing," Rohden said. "So giving the parents some
tips and some reassurance about what would be normal for kids to be experiencing
and how they could cope with some of those behaviors is part of what we can
offer as mental health."
Rohden recalls one boy who was extremely worried and stressed, but after
having someone take the time to talk with him, he was able to come to a sense of
peace, she said.
"He was very hyper-vigilant and frightened, but afterwards he was
actually smiling and laughing again and re-engaging with his family," she
Mc Culllough said she received gratitude from parents who discussed with her
how their children were reacting to the trauma, and even talked to one man who
knew three of the seven people who died.
While it can be hard to gauge the long term impact the women had on the
people they spoke with, Archer said she could see a change especially in the
children they talked to in that their worried and anxious expressions left their
faces and they felt free to be a kid again.
McCullough was surprised at the need for volunteers like herself and said she
hopes other mental health workers would consider volunteering their time.
"There was such a great need for mental health volunteers," she
said. "I would hope people in all areas would recognize the need for [it],
even if a mental health person does even a day or two. We did a day and we feel
like we made an impact."