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Overcoming trauma together

AHOSKIE – It’s not unusual for first responders to experience trauma as a result of their jobs. A new course offered locally, however, will help them develop the tools they need to deal with the mental anguish associated with their profession.

“REBOOT Recovery” is a faith-based, 12-week course sponsored and hosted by the West Chowan Baptist Association. David Walther, pastor of Sandy Run Baptist Church, is organizing and leading the course.

“We’ve got a lot of men and women out there that are suffering from trauma that they have experienced on the job,” Walther explained. “We want to provide them a safe place where there’s no fear of repercussions. It’s a no judgment zone.”

The course, which begins on Aug. 26, will meet from 6-8 p.m. every Thursday at the West Chowan Baptist Association (WCBA) office, located at 335 NC Hwy 42, Ahoskie. It’s open to families of participants, and a meal and childcare will also be provided.

“This is not one church caring for one fire department, for example. This is 60 churches, and there’s been very wide participation involved,” explained Matthew Dupuy, who serves as pastor of Galatia Baptist Church as well as part of the association’s evangelism leadership team.

WCBA is made of churches located throughout Hertford, Bertie, and Northampton counties, and volunteers from many of those churches will be the ones providing meals and childcare services throughout the 12 weeks.

Local volunteers will also help lead the course as facilitators along with Walther. Those volunteers include John Lohman, Tim Curley, Jennifer Payne, Helen Varnadoe, Steve Hoggard, and Greg Hurdle. Walther explained that these people come from different backgrounds to provide their own perspectives to the course material.

Each meeting will include videos and discussion as the group goes through the process of identifying the issues and working to start healing. At the end of the course, they’ll hold a graduation celebration.

Walther noted that many people in the first responder field often have hectic schedules, but he emphasized that it’s okay to miss a meeting. The course comes with an app where participants will be able to access the material they missed.

He also explained that “first responders” cover a variety of careers, including law enforcement, firefighters, 911 dispatchers, emergency room staff, prison guards, and more.

“There’s a stigma with trauma and mental health,” Walter said. “But no one’s trauma is any less important or more severe than someone else’s.”

“If my car’s broke down, I take it to someone who will fix it. If the sink doesn’t work, I get a plumber,” Dupuy added, explaining that mental health should be no different. “You get help when you need help.”

WCBA Director of Missions Terry Stockman explained that avoiding addressing trauma can lead to all sorts of problems such as physical symptoms and relationship issues and different kinds of abuses. And often, spouses and children don’t know how to respond either.

“You’ll only better your relationship and teamwork capability if you get help,” Walther agreed.

Though Walther does not have experience as a first responder, he is no stranger to recovering from trauma. He spent 20 years serving in the military. Over time, he developed anxiety and OCD as a trauma response, and eventually he starting isolating himself from his family and friends.

“It’s a spiritual wound,” Walther explained. “And if wounds are not properly dealt with, they get infected. And those wounds begin to affect our families. It begins to affect our marriages.”

Eventually, he sought out the help he needed, was led to the ministry, and now he wants to help others too.

“The trauma is still there,” he admitted. “We’re not going to get rid of it, but [the course] is going to help the families understand the triggers and how to respond better to the situation.”

Stockman encouraged people to not let the stigma of mental health stop them from registering. Walther added that they wouldn’t turn anyone away.

Those interested in participating in the free faith-based course can sign up at rebootrecovery.com/responders

“This is the first of hopefully many,” said Dupuy.