When the call came April 2 that seven people had been killed at Oikos University in Oakland, the Crisis Response and Support Team from Catholic Charities of the East Bay went into action.
Cindy Hill-Ford, director of mental health services for Catholic Charities of the East Bay, had been in her Concord office that day when news of the tragedy reached her. It was followed, she said, by texts and calls from crisis team members: Do you need me? Let me know what I can do.
When there is a homicide in the City of Oakland, the Crisis Response Team, with its partner, Youth Alive, begins offering support to the victims' families. This happens usually within 12 hours.
"The partnerships we've had and been creating over the years really work," said Hill-Ford.
"Sergeant (Rachael) Van Sloten called me at midnight," Hill-Ford said of the Oakland Police Department sergeant who had personally delivered the news of the death of a loved one to seven families. Van Sloten e-mailed contact information to Hill-Ford.
"The next day, we established our Crisis Response team, working with Youth Alive and Alameda County Behavioral Health Care," Hill-Ford said. "We developed our plan and contacted each family."
Crisis managers are chosen with an eye to compatibility with the family.
The crisis management team assesses a family's needs, determining, Hill-Ford said, "What are ways we can be helpful?" In this case, there were many families to consider at one time, as well as cultural factors to take into account, in determining "how our response can be most compassionate."
There are also the immediate, practical needs. A crisis response team member, for example, worked with Efanye Chibuko to complete paperwork to receive the victim's compensation funds of $5,000 to help with funeral expenses for his wife, Doris.
Mental health services are available, both immediately and on an ongoing basis.
The Crisis Response Team met again "to be sure no one fell through the cracks," Hill-Ford said.
There were memorial services to attend, one in the days following the tragedy at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, and another on the grounds of Oikos University.
"It was the first time some people had been back to campus," Hill-Ford said.
"Most of the families have very strong parish support," Hill-Ford said. "Parish communities surround families with love and support and guide them through this."
This differs from many of the homicide victims they assist, who often do not have as strong ties to a faith community.
Catholic Charities' commitment to the families will not end with the funerals. "A few will require long-term assistance," she said. "All are welcome."
"We can stay with families," Hill-Ford said.
Some families that have experienced loss and the services of the Crisis Response Team will join team members for a panel discussion May 23 at the Parish Hall of the Cathedral of Christ the Light, 2121 Harrison St., Oakland. The event, which will run from 6 to 8:30 p.m., includes a free dinner. Space is limited; RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-659-4779 by May 20.
And while the Crisis Response Team was responding to this tragedy, there were others who needed heir services. Hill-Ford was sending assistance to McClymonds High School, in Oakland, which was dealing with the loss of two students, one violently.
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