Green Cross Academy of Traumatology moves headquarters to Regent

When a devastating natural disaster or other tragedy strikes, the emotional toll can be overwhelming. Humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross and Operation Blessing help people deal with their immediate physical needs, but often the loss creates psychological challenges that linger long after the initial crisis has subsided.

Last spring, Regent University became the headquarters for the Green Cross Academy of Traumatology, an international humanitarian-assistance organization with a focus on helping people in psychological crisis, as a result of large-scale traumatic events. The organization, now led by Benjamin Keyes, Ph.D., Ed.D. and School of Psychology & Counseling professor, was created to help in times of crisis, and, at the same time to train first responders in mental health support.

trauma-story1The academy originated in 1997 under Charles R. Figley, Ph.D., following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. According to Keyes, over the years, Green Cross has responded to almost every major trauma that has hit the United States and its close neighbors, including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and more recently, Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and the mudslides in Oso, Washington.

Officially turned over to Regent in May 2014, the Green Cross is housed under the university’s Center for Trauma Studies. While the center was created expressly for Regent students, staff and alumni, the Green Cross maintains international assistance opened broadly to traumatologists and compassion fatigue service providers.

“Now, we are hoping to do a lot of new research with Green Cross and their deployments, such as looking at the reaction to trauma and resiliency levels,” Keyes explains. “We have the opportunity to piggyback on important areas, all housed here at Regent.”

From a researcher’s perspective, linking the work of Green Cross and Regent brings additional value. “We can get all necessary documents reviewed pretty rapidly by our human subjects committee, and within a short period of time we can actually do research while addressing a crisis event,” Keyes says. “That’s something that is very rare. It’s usually after the fact, in anecdotal stories, rather than actual happenings as they are going on.”

trauma-story2Under the new Trauma Center – Green Cross partnership, Keyes sees unlimited potential in equipping people to care for those in crisis: “We are training both church volunteers and professional clinicians who serve alongside first responders in compassion fatigue. We are teaching people how to take care of themselves in times of crisis and disaster, and how to volunteer effectively with survivors on the street. It’s a beautiful system of care.”

Although Green Cross is a secular organization, Keyes is quick to note that it has, at its very heart, a Christian mission: “This collaboration offers the opportunity for our students to do the purest form of ministry and outreach — to be aware and be there for hurting people. I have a background in counseling but also in ministry.”

With a tone of earnestness he adds, “Outreach is so important, to be with people, to connect with people, to serve people.You don’t make changes in people’s lives unless you’re willing to be where they are and go through the experience with them, and that’s what opens doors to any kind of Christian ministry anyway. It’s not the words. It’s the actions. People have to see that.”

Empowering a Nation to Help Itself

trauma-story3Lemuel Williams ’10 (Psychology & Counseling) with dual master’s degrees in counseling, is a man with a vision. That vision — for his native island of Trinidad and surrounding islands to be self-sufficient in times of crisis — was birthed when he was a young missionary kid and incubated as a graduate student at Regent University. His vision is being realized as Regent and Green Cross are working together to set up a trauma center on the island within the next two years.

“In my first year at Regent I realized this was an area that could be helpful in my country,” Williams says. “We are a Caribbean island, and we experience a lot of natural disasters pretty much every year, but we usually have to wait a long time for help from outside. Even then, it’s time-limited.”

This reality sparked a thought in Williams: “What if I could go home and help?” From there he asked, “What if we could train our own team?” It was an outcome that would be a lot quicker and more relevant.

According to Regent professor Benjamin Keyes, Ph.D., Ed.D., who serves as program director for the Center for Trauma Studies and executive director of the Green Cross Academy of Traumatology, fulfilling Williams’ dream of a trauma center is coming together at the perfect time. The idea is to train a group of first responders and a group of clinicians in the various protocols so they have a cadre of people in case of hurricane, flooding and/or gang violence.

Keyes explains: “Trinidad is an industrialized island. On a recent visit I was able to meet with government officials and about 50 NGO (nongovernmental) groups. Two things came out of that: 1.) They want the Green Cross to set up a chapter there. 2.) They want the government and the NGOs to get trained. We are going to do that this summer.”

After the initial trainings, Williams plans to head up the program from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and travel back and forth to do some training with help from his family in Trinidad.

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