United Way of El Paso County has extensive experience in crisis, which it brought to bear after the Aug. 3 mass shooting last year.
The unprecedented attack on Latinos where 23 people were killed by a white supremacist at a Walmart led United Way to take on a new role of helping in the long-term healing process for the community.
The nonprofit created the El Paso United Family Resiliency Center to be the place where people affected by the tragedy could seek services to aid in their healing process.
Christina Lamour, vice president of community impact for United Way, said the agency is involved in short-term disaster response on an ongoing basis, but creating the center was something new.
“It’s not something that I personally had ever had done before, nothing United Way had ever done before,” Lamour said. “We’re not victim service providers. For the most part we help connect the dots.”
Lamour said United Way was asked to stand up the Family Resiliency Center about one month after the shooting.
“It’s really one of those things where when you are asked to step up, of course you say yes. You can’t say no even though you don’t have the answers; you find them,” Lamour said.
Several communities that had previously experienced tragedy reached out to give advice and share insights, but Lamour said the United Way had to absorb all of that information and figure out what would be best suited for El Paso.
“To start something from scratch that we had never done before was interesting,” Lamour said. “There is no play book, there is no guide book for something like this.”
United Way officials looked into best practices for helping people recover from traumatic events, got feedback from the community and took into consideration that the region as a whole was impacted, not just El Pasoans.
Lamour said the Family Resiliency Center has about 99 active participants, but estimates there are at least 15,000 people that were either directly or indirectly impacted from the day of the event based on proximity to the site.
“That 15,000 is anybody who was on site at the Walmart, the Sam’s Club, Cielo Vista (mall) and then family members of those individuals,” Lamour said. “We have always given a very broad definition of victim at the family resiliency center because in our eyes basically anybody in El Paso or in the Borderland was affected in some way.”
Lamour said mental health is a large component of the services offered. She also said they realized that not every person responds to traditional mental health therapy, so the FRC offers a wide array of services.
Services include emergency basic needs, legal services, job skills training and transportation as well as nontraditional therapy such as yoga and equine therapy. Lamour said there is an application and eligibility process for some of the services.
“We are able to help anyone who has a need tied to Aug. 3 in some way. We really try to make it general so that we keep ourselves open to help as many people as possible. If anyone is unsure if they can be helped, it’s worth reaching out and talking to a member of our team,” Lamour said.
The fully grant-funded center has a large network of providers and employs “resiliency navigators” that work as case managers with individuals to determine specific people’s needs.
The program is funded through a two-year Victims of Crime Act grant through the Office of the Governor totaling about $2.8 million, which will last through September 2021 with the option to extend the funding for another two years. She said recovering from trauma does not have a timeframe, although experts say it can take an average of seven years from the date of the trauma.
“We are already starting to think what the options are and resources and (try to) keep some form of resilience center to offer some more broad resources in the community,” Lamour said.
How to seek help
The El Paso United Family Resiliency Center is not currently accepting in-person visitors at its 6314 Delta Drive location due to COVID-19, but anyone interested in seeking services can call (915) 775-2783 for information, or visit elpasounited.org. The website is in both English and Spanish.
Cover photo: The Family Resiliency Center offers services to people impacted by the Aug. 3, 2019, shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart. (Photo courtesy of United Way of El Paso County)