Education Agency Takes Lead on Harvey Crisis Counseling

There are also hurricane survivors who aren’t sure where to go after the government’s hotel program is expected to end later this month.

by Laura Garcia, Victoria Advocate, Texas / April 3, 2018

(TNS) - Although it has been just over seven months since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast, there are still residents in the region struggling to recover.

A crisis counseling program called Texans Recovering Together is trying to help.

“The majority of what I’m seeing is the need for materials,” said Katrina Lowrey, team lead with the local provider of Texans Recovering Together. “A lot of people just don’t even know where to go and what’s out there.”

There are also hurricane survivors who aren’t sure where to go after the government’s hotel program is expected to end later this month.

Team Lead Eliza Welder said she’s also met with families who were afraid to ask for help because of their undocumented status.

But these situations shouldn’t be barriers to getting help because these crisis counseling services are confidential and free.

“We help people,” said Phyllis Hamilton, one of two program directors of the crisis counseling program provided by Region 3 Education Service Center.

Though the program is funded by the federal government, they only turn in tallies, not personal information.

The focus, she said, is building on the survivor’s own resiliency and encouraging them to take advantage of the resources available to them.

Since Feb. 1, Region 3 ESC has made close to 1,000 contacts with hurricane survivors. These anonymous contacts are defined as interactions of 15 minutes or longer, providing encouragement, techniques for coping with stress and referrals to disaster recovery resources.

The outreach workers are available to listen to the survivors at their home or in public settings. The agency plans to attend a parents’ night at Austwell-Tivoli school district and is scheduled to attend a community event in Refugio on April 25.

“We’re beginning to look at how we can help during the summertime,” Hamilton said. One idea is partnering with local libraries to talk with adults while their children are listening to a story or participating in a fun activity.

Lowrey and Welder supervise nine outreach workers tasked with strategically reaching residents in Victoria and the surrounding 10 counties.

Welder said she came across a man who was afraid his home would be condemned if he reached out for assistance.

“It’s amazing how some people are getting by,” Welder said. “Before I got into this, I had no idea how bad these families are suffering.”

Residents particularly in rural, low-income communities have been living through the damage with little help.

And then there are survivors who are re-traumatized by storms and tornadoes.

Welder said workers will go to Seadrift to help residents cope with yet another frightening weather event: an F1 tornado struck the city early Thursday morning.

The funding comes from an $11.1 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, which is working with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Education Service Centers in the state were given the nine-month grant because of their close connections with school districts.

Hamilton said Region 3 ESC was the only center with all of its counties under a disaster declaration.

The center serves 39 school districts in the area and works with three mental health authorities in the region, including Gulf Bend Center.

Hamilton urges people to contact the agency to request group presentations or for suggestions on where outreach workers should visit. The program is scheduled to end Oct. 31.

Texans Recovering Together is designed to strengthen existing community support systems. She said the work of compiling referral resources is something that stays in the community.

“It’s going to be a resource that will live on past the grant,” she said.

Laura Garcia reports on health and nonprofits for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at or 361-580-6585.


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