Resiliency Center In Marshall County Helps Community Heal Three Years After School Shooting
Saturday, January 23, marks three years since a gunman took the lives of two 15-year-olds and traumatized hundreds more at Marshall County High School. As survivors work to navigate the memories of the carnage as well as the uncertainty of the pandemic, a new mental health facility in the county is helping community members heal.
The lobby of the Marshall County Resiliency Center in Benton is filled with bright colors, comfortable furniture, and the scent of essential oils.The center was designed with the comfort of its clients in mind. It was originally meant to open last April to provide therapy and mental health services to crime victims in the community. However, center coordinator Jayna Burkey said the onset of the coronavirus pandemic pushed back the opening to August.
“Obviously the pandemic still hovered over all of us,” Burkey said. “But we just felt like it was better to at least go ahead and open and be able to see people via telehealth, or what other ways that we needed to meet their needs.”
Burkey said the past year has been an experiment in engaging prospective clients through nontraditional methods.
“So we tried to link arms with the community as best as we could with this different grand opening that we had. But I'm thrilled we opened back in August but yes, it has been difficult as it has been for everyone.”
Burkey said community members shouldn’t feel like they have to see a therapist to use the Resiliency Center. She said she hopes the space will be used as a recreational spot for the community after the pandemic. The center features an art therapy studio, a children’s play area and lounging spaces that can be used for fellowship and group events. Burkey said once the specter of the pandemic has lessened, the center will be open Tuesday through Thursday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., along with being open other times for appointments.
“I think by people seeing a place where they can serve, and be a part of this community on a different level than they thought they could before. I think that is healing also,” Burkey said.“We're open other times by appointment only, but those times are just for the community to come in and just walk through our doors and say, ‘what do you do here? What can I do here? And how can I serve?’”
Leading the center isn’t just a job for Burkey. She said it’s a personal commitment inspired by her faith to serve families torn apart by tragedy. A mission that’s made more impactful for her after she lost her daughter ten years ago to a gunshot wound.
“I might not understand what it's like to walk in the shoes of those survivors from that shooting that died. But I do know what it's like to suffer great tragedy, and have questions that, you know, sometimes never get answered.”
Unanswered questions are prevalent in Marshall County as it passes the three-year mark of the shooting that forever damaged the tight-knit community. Marshall County Schools Superintendent Trent Lovett told WKMS most students that were in the school building on January 23, 2018 have now graduated, but they still carry with them the emotional scars of that day.
“The community will never completely heal, I don't think, but they are in the process,” Lovett said.
He said the school district is working with the Resiliency Center on ways to engage students, teachers, parents, first responders and the community-at-large in recovery efforts. He said the center will help in that effort with an event on the 23rd at the high school’s campus.
“So we're just going to have a come and go, a ceremony in the Performing Arts Center in the lobby and have some of the remembrances of things that were sent to us from other school districts and some healing things that were given to us by even community members,” Lovett said.
Lovett and Burkey agree on the Resiliency Center’s importance as Marshall County enters the next phase in the healing process. With the national spotlight fading on small communities that experienced school violence, organizations like the center are at the crux of keeping positive memories and hope alive for victims, their families, and the entire county.
Find more information about the Marshall County Resiliency Center, including volunteer opportunities and mental health services, here.