Hurricane Recovery Volunteers Get A Short Vacation At The Resiliency Retreat

Joanne Watt came all the way from West Minister, Colorado to work as a case manager for the Salvation Army's hurricane recovery effort.

"You get emotionally involved sometimes too much with your clients," says Watt. "That's my problem." Now, she and her co-workers are taking some much needed rest, three days away from their volunteer work to get in touch with their own emotions. They and more than 100 other volunteer case workers, first responders, mental health professionals and others are spending three days at USM's Gulf Coast Research Lab campus in Ocean Springs for a Resiliency Retreat.

"This is all about resiliency and recognizing that there's a lot of healing that's taken on in nature," says Julie Propst, United Way Long Term Recovery Coordinator and creator of the Retreat. "So, we really want to make a connection to that for our own healing."

Words on scraps of paper silently communicate the rewards and frustrations volunteers encounter in working with disaster victims. Dr. Peter Fraenkel, one of the presenters at the Retreat, says working with displaced people, like the victims of 911 and the homeless he councils in New York City, can be emotionally draining.

"It's decompressing," says Fraenkel, Director of the Ackerman Institute Center for Time, Work and Family. "It's learning that you're not alone, that maybe something you've been feeling about a situation that you really hadn't talked to anybody about, somebody else has also experienced. Just knowing that can be very powerful."

That's why a healthy dose of fun is a prescription long over due for those who volunteer to share our daily pain.

"We're going to have live music tonight, and a crawfish boil, and fly kites and fish, and just have a good time," says Propst.