CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Although the residents of South Texas continue working hard to recover from the devastation left behind by Hurricane Harvey, the feeling of distress is still felt by many. The hurricane, which made landfall on Aug. 25 near Port Aransas, not only caused substantial physical loss, but also considerable psychological trauma. Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Counseling and Educational Psychology (CNEP) program is addressing this need by helping to heal post-Harvey anxiety, worry and depression in the Coastal Bend community.
Island University CNEP professors, Drs. Jennifer Gerlach, Kristina Nelson and Michelle Hollenbaugh, are part of the counselor response team who volunteered Oct. 3-4 at Ingleside High School by offering psychoeducation, group processing, and individual counseling for students who lost their homes, were displaced, or were otherwise affected by the hurricane.
“We hoped to normalize any trauma reactions they may be experiencing, as well as provide them with a safe place to talk about what they had gone through,” said Hollenbaugh, CNEP Associate Professor at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “The students who didn’t evacuate talked about how scary the hurricane was and the students who did evacuate talked about how worried they were about their loved ones who stayed.”
The CNEP counselors provided a safe place for students to process their emotional, physical, and psychological reactions, and also gave information on healthy ways to cope with the trauma felt after a hurricane. Islander faculty were also available for individual counseling sessions to provide crisis counseling for more than 680 students struggling with the effects of Hurricane Harvey.
“I saw a lot of kids who were really concerned with finances because their parents’ jobs were destroyed,” Gerlach said. “It was heartbreaking to see kids have that kind of worry.”
A&M-Corpus Christi’s professors also offered emotional support and healing sessions to students who were displaced from other local district schools. Although Ingleside High School reported damage in its buildings, they repaired, cleaned up the school and hosted 48 displaced students from Aransas Pass, Aransas County and Port Aransas. According to local news reports, the Ingleside Independent School District suffered $8 million in damages between all school campuses, delaying the return of classes from Aug. 28 to Sept. 21.
“We really appreciated the extra help of the CNEP counselors because our counselors have been busy enrolling new students with whom have to discuss schedules and career paths,” said Mary Dawn Whidden, Principal at Ingleside High School. “The hurricane not only affected gym floors, roofs, windows and hallways, but also the academic calendar, the space in classrooms, students’ attendance and class rank.”
CNEP professors plan to return to support the staff and teachers at Ingleside High School —some who even lost their homes due to Harvey.
In the coming week, Islander professors will work to train Islander counseling students to work with children and adolescents in other weather-affected cities.
“We would have liked to bring Islander CNEP students to Ingleside High School, but we needed to provide quick assistance to the school,” concluded Hollenbaugh. “We want to make sure our counseling students have adequate training to serve and work with other Harvey survivors.”
For more information about services offered by CNEP, which includes counseling services for individuals, couples, families, and children free of charge, click here.