Last week, when western and central Massachusetts experienced devastating tornados, staff and clients at our Phoenix House Springfield Center and Phoenix House Academy at Springfield showed amazing calm, compassion, and resourcefulness. “Everyone was helping each other into the basement to take shelter,” explains Springfield Center Program Director Melissa Young, “and as we were closing the door, I looked out the window and saw an old tree in our yard get uprooted and tossed away like a leaf.”
The tornado destroyed the school across the street from the Center and took the roof off the recreation center near the Academy. “It looked like a bomb went off,” Young says, “and we are all so grateful to have survived. It was a traumatic experience, but the residents and staff did an excellent job keeping calm and looking out for each other.” At the Academy, Program Director Eleanor Berch-Heyman and her team were able to reach each teen’s family within the first hour of the tornado. “We made sure the parents were OK and assured them that their kids were OK,” Berch-Heyman explains, “and all the family members broke down crying, they were so relieved.”
The next day, clients and staff headed outside to see what had happened—and to help. They spent the day walking up and down the streets, clearing branches from neighbors’ cars and lawns. A tree had fallen into the house of one elderly couple, and the Academy teens helped cut away the branches that were blocking the couple’s driveway and door. “The kids talked to a lot of our neighbors, and they were going from house to house asking if people needed help,” says Berch-Heyman. “They were just amazing, and they felt powerful knowing that they could be of assistance.” Although many of the clients’ families were shaken by the tornado, they were all extremely proud of their teen’s dedication and kindness in the days that followed.
Additional hope and support came from the other Phoenix House programs throughout New England, who have been reaching out to the Springfield team, offering to bring staff and clients over to help. “It really confirms for us how much of a family Phoenix House really is,” adds Young. “The experience of the tornado was terrifying, and the aftermath brought up some feelings of helplessness, but what these clients did and how quickly they wanted to get out there and help their community is truly remarkable.”
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