ART has the ability to give expression to the things in life that are the most complex. - Jason Hedden
There are many reasons people love living along the Florida panhandle: the soft, white beaches, the spanish moss in the old trees, and the vibrant arts scene among the small towns that dot the coast, among many others. Jason Hedden was also going home when he and his family moved back to the area in 2008 to take a job in the Visual & Performing Arts Division at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Florida. In the decade since, he grew his family, dedicated time to the college, arts community, and students, and grew deep roots in the community. Hurricanes are a part of life in Florida, so no one was especially concerned about the developing system in early October 2018. It wasn’t until the early morning hours of October 10th that Jason Hedden realized this storm wasn’t going to be like all the others.
PHOTO: PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
The Hedden residence is separated from the nearest hospital by a bridge, so Jason, his wife, and ten-year-old son left on October 9th to ride out the storm at a family member’s house on the other side of the bridge. Jason remembers being truly scared only a few times during the whole ordeal, one of which was at 4 am on October 10th when he received an emergency alert indicating that the storm was rapidly intensifying. With no time left to evacuate further out of the storm’s path, he, his wife, son, and four other family members spent the storm sheltered under the stairs of his sister’s home as Michael’s 160 mph sustained winds toppled thousands of established trees and the devastating storm surge and waves destroyed the second floor rooms in houses along the beach.
Once the winds died down, Jason’s family stepped outside into a new world. The street was unrecognizable. Cell service was down, making communication with family outside the area nearly impossible. The next few days were marked with 6 hour lines at the gas station and trying to identify the status of family members. It was a couple of days before Jason found out his other sister was ok, thanks to 10 miles of impassable roads. Although the storm was initially labeled as a Category 4, later investigations would identify what many in the community already knew; Hurricane Michael was a Category 5 storm that changed the way of life for everyone living along the Florida Panhandle.
Eventually, life began to move towards a “new normal,” but recovery is slow. With most businesses closed around the area, including the college, Jason found himself with spare time on his hands and began writing in an effort to process what was going on. When he shared those words on Facebook, the response was immediate; hundreds of readers reacted, commented, and shared Jason’s posts. Through his writing, people found the words to ascribe to their intense, confusing emotions. In mid-October, Jason wrote to the cast & crew of a show that had been in rehearsal before the storm hit that “ART has the ability to give expression to the things in life that are the most complex.” Other artists in the community also began expressing their pain and loss through songs, poetry, and photography. While construction workers rebuilt the infrastructure of the city, local artists began to rebuild the heart of the community.
In the year since Hurricane Michael, the arts community has experienced vast challenges. Most established performing arts venues are still unusable. Local, prominent artists have left the area due to increasing rent costs. Some artists have not been able to create at all, feeling overwhelmed by the ongoing stressors of living in a recovery zone. But many of those artists who can create have chosen to use their art for good. One example is In the Eye of the Storm: Stories of Survival and Hope from the Florida Panhandle, a compilation of essays, poetry, and photography from artists looking to find meaning in their Hurricane Michael experiences. All proceeds from the book go to the United Way of Northwest Florida, whose Hurricane Michael Fund is dedicated to supporting local recovery. This grassroots effort is not only promoting healing throughout the community, but giving back financially as well.
The Florida Panhandle is not alone in finding meaning and truth through art after disaster. Artists have banded together after Hurricane Sandy, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Hurricane Katrina, and many other locations that have experienced traumatic events. Whether the organic result of individual artistic expression or fostered by established organizations in the community, art brings people together, gives context to suffering, and promotes healing.
Interested in promoting the arts following an event in your community? Consider the following tips:
it’s just stuff. they are just things
by Jason Hedden on October 19, 2018
Shared with permission.
“It’s just stuff. They are just things.”
For many, the loss of the physical is not what is being mourned. It is the loss of what that stuff and those things represent, the powerful symbolic and deep emotional meaning held within those items.
For many, a house is more than wood and brick.
It is a safety
It is independence
It is privacy
It is sanctuary
It is memory
These three robbed more than items. They stole more than stuff. Those items were oft endowed with deep and profound personal meaning.
We go to museums to see artifacts and relics of the past. To learn of lives lived.
What would be placed in the museum of your life?
What pieces tell the story of you?
A small black and white photo of your father’s father’s father?
The stuffed toy you were given by a friend in the hospital when you battled an illness that you feared would take you from those you love?
The flag that draped the coffin of your son? It was handed to you by crisp white gloves with such care it had to be made of fragile glass.
The table that you gather at for one special meal late in November each year? The same table you sat as a child. The same table your mother sat as a child. The table you now seat your own child.
The old vhs cassettes of family trips that you always wanted to covert to DVD?
Your old car? It was old, but it got you to work. A job you loved. A job that is gone.
These are things. This is stuff, but they are also so much more.
With time, the structures will be rebuilt. The items will be bought again.
The loss of that which we can’t see is so much greater than what we can see.
Tread with care. There is more than trash at the side of the road.
There are broken dreams and shattered hopes under those heavy limbs.
With great loss we also find great love.
The smallest act of kindness now has more power than it did a week ago.
The new stuff is being endowed with a new meaning.
The meaning of....
The wind changed the landscape. It also has the power to change us. I hope it changed me.
Tragedy and loss have the power to remind us of what we already know to be true.
Today is a new day. A day in which you have an opportunity to change a life and have your life changed.
Be well and walk with care. I hope to see you soon.
Interested in more about this story?
The following links include more information on Jason Hedden’s writing, In the Eye of the Storm, and the United Way of Northwest Florida.
Additional Resources similar to those discussed in this story
“You control what you can and refuse to invest energy in what you can’t control… How good are you at letting go of all that and then returning to what you can control?” Dr. Nathaniel Zinsser
I just finished one of those books you can’t put down. While researching for ICTG's Community Blog, I started looking for new perspectives on resilience. One of the first books I came across was Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton by Peter Fretwell and Taylor Baldwin Kiland (all quotes in this article are from the book, unless otherwise stated). If you haven’t studied the Vietnam War, you might think this book is about a hotel; in stark contrast, the Hanoi Hilton was the American nickname for the Hỏa Lò Prison, a brutal Prisoner of War (POW) camp. You also might not know that many of the hundreds of POWs who spent time at the Hanoi Hilton left the camp “physically and mentally intact,” and went on to have incredibly successful careers and lives - Vice Admiral James Stockdale, Medal of Honor recipient and Ross Perot’s Vice Presidential running mate in 1992, Texas Congressman Sam Johnson and the late Senator John McCain among them. This trend was noticed early on by the Department of Defense, who went on to study these POW soldiers over the course of decades. Fretwell and Baldwin Kiland took those studies, identified six characteristics that stand out as hallmark traits of resilience, and shared how they can apply to teams and communities.
1. The Mission Leads
Resilient groups maintain their focus on the mission. A clear, defined mission will guide a team or community towards a goal, even when the leader and followers change. The Hanoi Hilton POWs had a simple mission: “Return with Honor.” The Hanoi Hilton POWs faced extreme psychological warfare and were aggressively questioned for military intelligence. Where many POWs in other wars had felt as though they were no longer an active part of the fight, the Hanoi Hilton POWs maintained their mission through purposefully feeding their captors incorrect information. In doing so, they continued to serve their Country and mission, even when the theater changed from a battlefield to an interrogation room. This sense of purpose and clarity of mission gave the POWs an ultimate goal to keep striving for.
2. You Are Your Brother’s Keeper
Servant leadership is one of my favorite approaches to leadership. Robert Greenleaf’s 1970 “The Servant as Leader” essay describes it as such: “The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types… The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.” The POW community at the Hanoi Hilton frequently utilized this form of leadership to help each other recover from the torture and abuse they experienced. Additionally, instead of hiding their experiences, the leaders within the POW community shared their pain and were honest and open about what they were going through. The vulnerability they demonstrated to those they led strengthened the bond among the POWs. Academics have looked at the characteristics exhibited by the POW Servant Leaders and found they were excellent at five essential traits of psychological first aid: safety, optimism, calm, connectedness, and efficacy. The bottom line: when we are all looking out for each other, we can get through the hard times.
3. Think Big and Basically
Teams work best when the goal and the rules of the road are clear. The POW’s rules of the road were focused on minimizing the ability of their captors to use them as propaganda and supporting their fellow captives. POWs were given the latitude to interpret how to follow these rules individually, which allowed them to balance the amount of abuse they received and how much they were willing to resist. “Personal ownership and responsibility became the cultural norm” within the Hanoi Hilton because the leadership came through inspiration, not dictation. POWs knew what was expected of them at a high level, and were given the ability to decide how they were going to meet those expectations.
4. Don’t Piss Off the Turnkey
High-performing teams focus on what they can control rather than what they cannot. For the POWs, this meant protecting each other whenever possible, controlling their attitude, staying mentally and physically fit, occupying their time with whatever activities they could, managing their energy. It would have been easy for the POWs to focus their attention on everything they didn’t have, or all of the moments they were missing back home; instead, they kept their attention on ensuring the safety and health of the group.
5. Keep the Faith
Researchers who have studied the Hanoi Hilton POWs have identified a number of personality traits that impacted their resilience, but the strongest indicator of their ability to bounce back from their traumatic experiences was optimism. “Simply put, optimists look at bad events as temporary, local, and external; pessimists look at bad events as permanent, pervasive, and personal.” While some people are natural-born optimists, it can also be taught. The Navy SEALs mentally train their recruits towards optimism by focusing on goal setting, arousal control, visualization, and self-talk. The POWs exhibited exceptional mental focus, fortitude, and willpower; that mental edge proved to be one of the reasons the Hanoi Hilton POWs were so resilient.
6. The Power of We
Finally, the Hanoi Hilton POWs never forgot that they were “in this” together. Rather than one person leading a resistance, they all worked together - if their captors were to punish someone, they would have to punish all rather than just one. However, even as the war came closer to the end and restrictions on the captives eased, the POWs never lost sight of their mission; instead, they held closer to it. Even when tempted with early release (the refusal of which was one of the basic tenents of the “Return with Honor” mission), POWs at the Hanoi Hilton refused unless they were released in the order in which they were shot down. Instead of accepting early release, the POWs respected the order in which they had agreed they would be released and even refused orders to return out of order. For them, they had operated for so long towards their common mission that even the strongest temptations were not enough to break their focus on the welfare of the group.
Instead of crumbling under the oppressive circumstances, these servicemen grew together, supported one another, and accomplished their mission of returning with honor. The lessons from the community developed in the camp are an exemplary testament of the capacity for human resilience and a roadmap for leaders looking to increase the strength and capability of their communities. All leaders who want to foster resilience should study the 6 characteristics above, and consider how each might apply to their teams. Use the following six prompts to begin:
Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton by Peter Fretwell and Taylor Baldwin Kiland
"Life is not what it's supposed to be. It's what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference." -Virginia Satir
You can’t always stop something bad from happening in your city, but you can decide how you’re going to respond to it. The City of Hampton, Virginia, found that people often came looking for information after a homicide in their neighborhood. To connect people with available resources, the City instituted the R.E.S.E.T. program in partnership with the Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office Victim Services Unit, City of Hampton’s Office of Youth and Young Adult Opportunities, Hampton 3-1-1, and the Hampton Police Department.
R.E.S.E.T., or Rapid Engagement of Support in the Event of Trauma, is a program led by volunteers who live in the neighborhoods they serve. Its framework is simple: neighbors share information about trauma support resources. The program is completely restorative in nature; although volunteers typically visit an area within 24 to 48 hours of a homicide or a serious violent gun violence crime, they are not investigating the crime. They are simply canvassing their community and speaking with their neighbors, creating an opportunity for residents to learn about the resources and programs available.
All volunteers must pass a background check and complete R.E.S.E.T. training. During the training, volunteers learn about the programs they will be highlighting, which include social services, 3-1-1, and other city programs, in addition to domestic violence services, counseling services, and other services offered by external city partners and non-profit organizations. Although the programs highlighted during R.E.S.E.T. visits can vary, they typically utilize the same programs each time.
The City has seen a positive return on investment and a large increase in resident engagement. The program has attracted more volunteers as it grows and, not only are more residents utilizing the programs highlighted by R.E.S.E.T., but the City receives calls inquiring about additional opportunities for receiving services and getting engaged in the community.
Think R.E.S.E.T. might be a good fit in your community? The City of Hampton had a few tips for getting started:
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Our mission for this Community Blog is to share a variety of resources and stories to support you and your community as you prepare for, respond to, and recover from traumatic events. It is our fervent hope that through this blog you are inspired to consider how you might support your community before a traumatic event happens, encouraged as you respond to an event one day and one step at a time, and sustained through the long, hard days of recovery. Every community is different and every trauma looks and feels unique. So, while this blog will share ideas and examples of how others have survived and grown through trauma, your community and your situation will not necessarily fit into someone else’s recovery mold. ICTG’s team of professionals are ready and willing to talk to you about your specific needs. If you are curious, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Great leaders are not defined by the absence of weakness, but rather by the presence of clear strengths.” John Zenger
The start of a traumatic event is a marked point in time between how life was and what it is now. As leaders, we are tasked with guiding our community through that difficult time of change. The ICTG Community Blog will share best practices and resources to help you as you address trauma and offer support as you provide leadership and care for your community. The following information can be helpful for recognizing the symptoms of trauma and for starting to offer care to your community.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a number of symptoms that a person who has undergone trauma may experience:
While these are natural physical, emotional, and mental responses to a traumatic event, some people and communities have a difficult time sharing that they are experiencing symptoms. They may feel like no one can understand their pain, embarrassed that they can’t “handle it on their own,” or may be dealing with feelings of survivor’s guilt. Whatever the reason, they are still experiencing symptoms that can negatively impact their quality of life and that can hinder your community’s recovery.
As leaders, we need to be aware of and looking for symptoms of trauma, and understand that members of our community may be suffering, even if we can’t see it ourselves. These tips from the CDC on dealing with trauma are broad enough to cover a variety of situations and can be shared with individuals or your community at large:
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