Social Workers to Speak About Aftermath of Sept. 11

What was it like to be at “Ground Zero” within days of the horrific Sept. 11 tragedy?

Five mid-Missouri social workers responded to New York City and Washington,
D. C. after the terrorist attacks to work with victims and families. They will tell their stories Wednesday (March 20) during a panel discussion at William Woods University.

“Crisis Principles in Action: Social Work Response to 9/11” will be held from 1 to 3:30 p.m. in the WWU library auditorium. The featured speakers, all licensed clinical social workers, are Sue Lane, John Souza, Karen Souza and Russel Breyfogle of Fulton State Hospital, and George Garner of William Woods.

The panelists will tell about their personal experiences and discuss the ideas and principles of crisis intervention work. It is a Social Work Month event.

Jim Brady, LCSW, Fulton State Hospital supervisor of social work education, said, “This is going to be powerful stuff, to have five local social workers who were so deeply involved in our national response to Sept. 11. People will want to hear their stories.”

Sue Lane and John Souza were the first from Fulton State Hospital to share their much-needed abilities at “Ground Zero” immediately following the tragedy.

Lane joined the American Red Cross Disaster Services in 1997 and had been on three Red Cross disaster assignments, including the Alabama floods of 1998, Hurricane George and Hurricane Floyd, prior to Sept. 11. She has worked at Fulton State Hospital since 1996 and is the group home coordinator.

She said, “Talking, crying, sharing and supporting one another can be one of the best crisis management medications.”

John Souza became a volunteer with the American Red Cross through the Boone County Chapter as a disaster mental health technician in 1997. He was promoted to the disaster mental health specialist position in 2000. He has served the Red Cross as a volunteer on six national disasters in conjunction with the department of mental health.

Souza has been employed by the department of mental health for 14 years. He is a clinical social work specialist at Fulton State Hospital with the supported community living office.

“Disaster mental health service workers are licensed mental health professionals trained to recognize the emotional impact of a disaster on those affected, as well as other emergency workers. They offer support, information and assistance,” he said.

Karen Souza also works at Fulton State Hospital’s supported community living office. She took the first Red Cross disaster mental health training offered to department of mental health workers in 1997 and worked on three disaster assignments prior to the Sept. 11 tragedy. In October she was assigned to the national public hotline in Falls Church, Va.

She said, “Disaster work allows you to use your personal and professional skills in a way that provides a deep sense of personal satisfaction.”

Breyfogle has been a Red Cross mental health worker since the fall of 1997 and has been involved with four disasters. In January he was assigned to help with the effects of the Sept. 11 tragedy. He has 31 years of social work experience, and has worked at Fulton State Hospital for more than 17 years.

Garner was a part of the first National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) crisis team deployed from Missouri in response to Sept. 11. It was a milestone for Missouri victim services because it was the first time an entire NOVA team had been deployed in response to a disaster. He worked with firefighters, police and devastated families.

He has been an assistant professor and director of field education with the social work department at William Woods University for the past eight years. Prior to becoming a faculty member, Garner was employed as a clinical social worker with the Missouri victim center in Springfield, Mo.

He has completed 40 hours of community crisis training to become a nationally certified crisis responder through the national organization for victim assistance (NOVA) in Washington, D.C.

Garner said, “The anguish and pain from this horrific event did not become real for me until I saw the faces and watched the reactions of family members while standing with them at ‘Ground Zero.’”

He added, “I witnessed such human strength and compassion. The level of respect and integrity with which caregivers and the entire community treated the families was unbelievable. It reflected the heart of social work values and principles in a manner I have never before experienced.”

The panel discussion is sponsored by the William Woods University department of social work, Students for Social Work Club and Fulton State Hospital social work department. Students, faculty, community social workers and any interested community members are invited to attend.

For more information, contact Jim Brady at Fulton State Hospital (573-592-2628) or George Garner at William Woods University (573-592-4366).