Dayton Stronger

 Dayton Stronger

Dayton demonstrates resilience while dealing with traumatic events in 2019
By Abby Hofrichter
Major Wendy Stiver has not had a day off since Aug. 3, the day before she awoke at 1 a.m. to the sound of gunshots in the Oregon District. Despite spending the weekend attending birthday celebrations for her volunteers, navigating a car crash that damaged her police cruiser and facilitating a team of officers and safety measures for Dave Chappelle’s Gem City Shine concert, Stiver walks into the coffee shop at 9:30 a.m. and offers me a Tupperware container of homemade butter curry chicken. In addition to wondering how she has managed all this in 72 hours it is her gift that begs the question: why?

The answer, in short, is resiliency.

In addition to her job at with the Dayton Police Department, where she covers the territory that includes the Oregon District, Stiver works part time for the National Institute of Justice. One of her current projects focuses on studying resiliency and resiliency-based trainings as it can be applied to law enforcement.

Her research has provided support and guidance this year in the aftermath of Dayton’s Memorial Day tornadoes and Aug. 4 mass shooting.

“Essentially what the military did was to build these offices of resiliency,” Stiver says, “to create systems that do a better job for caring for people.” Stiver paints a picture of the support systems that often grow in military installations of her childhood where family members of service members live, learn, play and work.

“The military has learned to provide very good support systems not just for service members but for their families,” Stiver says. “Because if they’re taken care of then when they’re on job they can be full focused on the job.”

Stiver believes caring for each other through small acts, such as cooking or cleaning, and large efforts, like grassroots fundraising, builds resiliency.

To The Dayton Foundation President Mike Parks resiliency looks like 6,000 gifts to the Disaster Relief Fund and Oregon District Tragedy Fund in just 60 days. In all of 2018 The Dayton Foundation received about 8,000 gifts, spread across 3,800 different funds.

“You have two terrible tragedies and there is no good that comes out of either of those, but one heartening thing is to see how people rally and how resilient Dayton is,” Parks says.

“It doesn’t surprise us in that we know these people and how much they care,” Parks says, “but you have to ask, in 60 days, how much can you deal with as a community? And it’s just been so heartening.”

Both tragedies require immediate and long-term action, Parks explained. The Greater Dayton Disaster Relief Fund was established after the tornadoes to quickly distribute funds to charitable organizations that were providing food, clothing and shelter to residents affected by the storm.

In the months that followed funds were, and continue to be, used to assist nonprofit organizations in address long-term recovery efforts like working with the Miami Valley Regional Planning to address redevelopment issues at a regional level which, according to FEMA, can be a two- to 10-year venture.

The Oregon District Tragedy Fund was set up as a victims compensation fund to help individuals directly affected by the Aug. 4 shooting, and is being overseen by a committee consisting 16 volunteer community leaders. 

“You do have longer-term community issues beyond the immediate recovery that you have to be concerned with,” Parks says. “You have trauma, so in our case as a community we’ve had two traumas in 60 days and we have to mobilize.”

Mental health and addiction are primary concerns in long-term trauma care, Parks explained. Many communities see a rise in addiction rates and opioid use as well as divorce rates and suicide, which is why the foundation is working with community consultants to address those needs and raise the topic of mental health support with other community organizations just weeks after the shooting.

“The good news is Dayton is a small enough community that we can get our hands around that,” Parks remarks. “We’re fortunate to have a strong nonprofit and government infrastructure.”

Many of these efforts to address mental health concerns and trauma have been long underway for those affected by the Memorial Day tornadoes. Beavercreek resident Amy Rice lives just a quarter mile from one of the 15 tornado’s direct impact.

“Quite a few of our trees were destroyed, which is what we could hear hitting the house during the storm,” Rice says. “We had drag strips and holes on the roof in addition to fence damage, but compared to what I witnessed and worked with afterwards it feels like nothing.”

After the immediate work of volunteering around the neighborhood Rice and her children began the arduous task of emotionally healing from the storms.

“I am trying to process and work through storms so they feel normal to me again,” Rice says. “I’ve tried to start a tradition with myself to grab a cup of coffee and go out on my back patio and force myself to watch the storm roll in… for myself and my children.”

Each of Rice’s six children is processing the event in their own way, she says, ranging from a new fear of storms to a newfound fascination with tornado videos on YouTube. Rice was relieved to learn that her youngest, a fourth grade student at Shaw Elementary, would not be forced to relive the events of May 27 through tornado drills at school.

Shaw Elementary opted to do a talk-through version of the state-mandated fire and tornado drills this fall, spending extra time on safety precautions, says Shaw Elementary Principal Susan Peveler. The school also provided teachers with additional trauma-informed trainings and connected families to work through traumatic experiences, such as storms.

How does a city build it’s own office of resilience? Well, the research may not be finished yet, but it appears that steps taken by Shaw Elementary, over 100 sanctioned fundraisers for The Oregon District Tragedy Fund, a trending hashtag on twitter, a community concert headlined by music legend Stevie Wonder and a Tupperware of Indian food all seem to a part of the effort.

“I believe it has everything to do with connectivity,” Mayor Nan Whaley says. “One of the social determinants of health is the connectivity to your community… and I knew that but I witnessed it in a very different way in how we came together.”