BENNINGTON -- Shy of 11 months after Tropical Storm Irene slammed the local area, American blues musician Huddie Ledbetter’s song "Goodnight Irene" echoed during an event Saturday organized by Starting Over Strong Vermont.
A short-term, statewide response to last year’s natural disaster, supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and administered by Washington County Mental Health Services, SOS VT is now entering the next phase helping residents rebuild and cope, said Shannon Behan, a local crises counselor with the organization.
Local stories sought
As part of the recovery process, local residents are invited to participate in a digital archival project organized by the Vermont Folklife Center. Dave Flight, a local resident involved in the Irene Storytelling Project, said he would be recording interviews with residents with stories to tell.
The documentation project includes group storytelling events (like one planned next Sunday in Wilmington) as well as any individuals who wish to take part. Elaine DeMasi, the local team leader for SOS VT, said sharing the experience was important for helping some people cope.
While the first stage of response to the storm involved going door-to-door identifying unmet needs and providing emotional support and assistance, Behan said the next phase would be to stage more community events, "to bring people together to let them see they’re not alone." Saturday’s event, held at the Bennington armory, was billed as an afternoon of remembrance and gratitude.
"Today is basically to give thanks," said Behan, to local first and second responders who helped during and following Irene. Local members of the National Guard and Vermont state police joined SOS VT organizers during Saturday’s event, which recognized the response of fire, police, and rescue organizations throughout Bennington County.
"Second responders" last Aug. 28 included private businesses and individuals who helped at shelters or their neighbors. "It’s what makes us resilient," said DeMasi. "We’ve put this system in place to take care of each other."
"Isn’t it great to have a society that picks up after a disaster?"
Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Mulcahey, with the local guard unit, reflected on the guard’s domestic as well as federal mission, which had guardsmen working in their home communities following Irene. A representative trooper with the state police thanked in turn the national guard for their response.
Bennington Rep. Brian Campion thanked first responders for their work during Irene, "and for what you do every single day."
"You’ve pledged your service, I want to pledge my service," Campion continued, calling climate change a real issue and pledging his support for the "necessary tools and equipment" to see first responders home at the end of every day.
SOS VT will continue coordinating and offering short-term support through the end of October, when the program is scheduled to end. Behan said while some residents were putting the crisis behind them, others will deal with triggers like heavy precipitation and anniversary dates beyond October. "For some people, it’ll always be there."
The SOS VT hotline for individuals requiring assistance remains at 1-855-767-8800.
For more information regarding the Irene Storytelling Project, visit www.vermontfolklifecenter.org/irene/, or call Flight at 802-279-7697.