Project Rebound UA Assists Students Affected by Tornado
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The Project Rebound program at The University of Alabama is offering crisis counseling for students impacted by the April 2011 tornadoes.
Project Rebound UA can provide help for students who may be experiencing emotional and other issues resulting from the tornadoes. The program was launched in November in response to the deadly storms and will continue through this June.
The project is funded with a $536,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded to a partnership of the University’s Institute for Rural Health Research and the Alabama Department of Mental Health.
“Project Rebound UA represents the first time that FEMA has provided funding for an outreach effort focused specifically on a university campus,” said Dr. Melanie Tucker, assistant professor in the Institute for Rural Health Research and the College of Community Health Sciences’ department of community and rural medicine, who is directing the project.
FEMA has currently trained 20 UA graduate students from different areas of study to serve as crisis counselors for individuals and groups of people alike. They can be found across campus daily in locations such as the Ferguson Center, on the Quad and in campus libraries, dormitories and dining facilities. Their goal is to start conversations with students in an effort to gauge their need for further aid, such as community services, medical treatment or mental health assistance.
Disasters cause upheaval in many forms, often resulting in survivors’ loss of security, property, community, health, friends, loved ones and their sense of safety. They can therefore experience increased risk for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other health conditions.
Rather than offering traditional psychiatric counseling for these issues, the crisis counselors simply listen to students and work to connect them to the resources they might need. They ask students how they are coping and offer them a chance to talk about what they might be going through, reassuring them that what they are feeling is common and part of the recovery process.
It really is unique,” adds Lisa Turley, state director for Project Rebound. “And part of the uniqueness is the way that the student team is reaching out to other students using Twitter, Facebook and texting, which is proving beneficial to students.”
Reports from the team indicate that students are comfortable with social media communication and that it helps lay the groundwork for easier face-to-face communication with the crisis counselors.
“When students see one of the team members on campus, it makes it easier to engage in conversation. The trust level has already been established,” said Turley.
Project Rebound UA also played a role in FEMA’s recent decision to incorporate a texting component to its Distress Help Line. It is currently available to disaster areas in Alabama and Joplin, Mo., where the agency is providing crisis counseling.
“The response the UA team has gotten gave FEMA a much stronger sense of confidence and comfort rolling out that texting piece,” said Turley. “We were thinking texting would be helpful for people who might have a communication disability issue, if they were hard of hearing or deaf. We were surprised at the number of students using texting.”
Turley reports that between Project Rebound UA’s launch in November and the end of January, 167 individual counseling encounters and 2,646 outreach encounters were recorded. FEMA plans to break down those numbers to determine how many of the encounters were via texting and other forms of social media.
“Project Rebound UA began its work at just the right time — when people really needed to talk, and to have that immediate contact, even if it’s a counselor texting back, reaching out, making a connection, being supportive and letting them know there are people who care,” said Turley.
Many UA students who may have been impacted by or witnessed the April tornados and their aftermath immediately left Tuscaloosa afterward without counseling, information and access to fellow victims with shared experiences. As a result, there were concerns that students might have a delayed reaction in dealing with the storm that might not emerge until after they returned to Tuscaloosa. Project Rebound UA is working to help make sure that trauma from the tornado does not impact students’ education, health and well-being.
Turley says she was curious why so many students would want to work as crisis counselors and be involved in something that can take such an emotional toll.
“When they told me that they just wanted to help others continue with their recovery, it amazed me. Their dedication to this is just phenomenal,” she said.
She says FEMA plans to use Project Rebound UA as a blueprint for similar outreach efforts at university campuses across the country.
“We’ve found something that works and we’re going to put it out there so people can replicate it on their campuses. We know that we can reach people and reach them effectively.
”For more information about Project Rebound UA, call 205/348-0025, visit www.projectrebound.ua.edu, or find Project Rebound UA on Twitter at Proj_ReboundUA.
The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.