For most of the past month, Greg Borders has been quietly working with students and staff at Umpqua Community College, the Roseburg, Ore. school where a gunman killed nine and wounded nine others Oct. 1.
Borders, Crisis Line Director for Lines for Life, worked on campus for three weeks, helping counsel students and managing a database that would allow providers to track the well-being of students and staff traumatized by the shootings.
At the time of the tragedy, Umpqua had no formal counseling service. In November, local health officials asked Lines for Life to loan Borders to the community. The goal was to ensure students and staff got the counseling they needed, and that a triage system was designed to make sure the most critical victims got help first.
Borders, along with college officials, also set up a phone bank, committing more than 40 trained crisis workers to call all 1700 students from Nov. 14-21, over the holidays.
Amy Baker, former director of child mental health services for the State of Oregon, set up a kind of makeshift counseling center in the UCC cafeteria, in a former coffee shop called The Bistro. Greg, Amy and two other counselors took walk-ins through the last of November, and the first two weeks of December.
“Anyone who was on the UCC campus on October 1st likely has been traumatized to varying degrees by events of that day,” Greg says. “Even though it happened on campus, that’s where everyone wanted to be. They wanted to be with the people they’d lived this through with.”
Greg says he and Amy began seeing students and staff in the acute phase of the trauma.“People were having trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping … And it was almost finals week,” he explains. “The pressure on everyone was intense.”
“Six weeks after the shootings, some people were just starting to show the first signs trauma,” he says. “Sometimes we’d get a walk in, a professor for example, who’d say, ‘I’m really concerned about [a specific student] because of October 1st. She’s in the bookstore. Would you go talk with her?”
Greg or the other counselors found them. One by one.
UCC officials also worked with Greg to build a database with contact info for all 1700 students. Lines for Life offered to make all 1700 of these calls. Three Lines for Life staff—Debbie Zwetchkenbaum, Tracy Reilly and Alexis Hilliard—got on the phones to mobilize inactive volunteers, creating a crisis-response center focused only UCC students. From Dec. 14-31, volunteers called every enrolled student, offering counseling, and offering to connect students with local mental-health resources over the holidays.
Officers from the Portland Police Bureau, who currently volunteer on the lines at Lines for Life, also volunteered to make welfare checks by telephone, for students traveling all over the country, from Dec. 14-31. Lines for Life also set up a dedicated response line so that students could call around the clock for crisis counseling during the winter break.
Greg adds, “We heard a lot of students say, ‘If I can just get through the holidays I’ll be OK,’ but we knew that once they were off campus, they wouldn’t necessarily have easy access to a counselor or someone they’d feel comfortable talking with. We just made certain help was there if they needed it.”