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Crisis Intervention Team from Baylor Receives State Award for Volunteer Efforts in West

Oct. 24, 2013

WACO, Texas (Oct. 23, 2013) -- James W. Ellor, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Social Work at Baylor, and Sara Dolan, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences, have been chosen for a major state award for their volunteer crisis intervention work in the city of West following the fertilizer plant explosion in April in which 15 people were killed.

The two have been named to receive the 2013 Jack Colley Citizen Corps Leadership Award from the Texas Association of Regional Councils, presented in Galveston this week during the Texas Citizen Corps 2013 Texas Unites Conference. The event is a joint gathering of Texas Citizen Corps and the Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

Dolan and Ellor worked the streets of West as a team after the tragedy. They were among many volunteer psychologists, social workers and chaplains who helped the surviving first responders, as well as community members, cope with their initial mental and emotional anguish. Their effort is what one surviving responder referred to as "rescuing the rescuers."

The award is named for the late Jack Colley, who led the Texas Department of Public Safety's division of emergency management during recovery efforts following such major disasters as the breakup of the shuttle Columbia, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike.

"Chief Colley said, 'The most important thing in a disaster is to know you're not alone.' And that was what Dr. Ellor and Dr. Dolan were doing -- letting people know they were not alone," said Penny Redington, executive director of the Texas Association of Regional Councils in Austin.

Diana Garland, Ph.D., dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor, said that "Jim and Sara saw a need and responded. They had the wisdom to see that the needs for community response would last long after the initial crisis, and they have continued to serve these neighbors week after week, month after month with compassion and professional competence. They are a picture of what it means to be Christian."

Jim Ellor

Ellor noted that in West, "the thing you're working with is this person's life, not just the blast."

He and Dolan, who lead the Central Texas Medical Reserve Corps' psychological intervention team, traveled to West the morning after the explosion and continue to visit weekly.

"When a blast like that or any kind of tragedy happens of that scale, the first thing that happens is that people are in shock," Ellor said. Bodies are recovered and immediate needs attended to. But "the needs do change over time . . . I'm part of the long-term recovery team trying to help out with psychosocial issues."

Dolan said that amid the duo's volunteer efforts, "I learned first and foremost that even in a disaster of this magnitude, people are incredibly resilient. I also learned that people have an overwhelming desire to help in times of crisis. We are a very charitable society."

Presentation of the award to Ellor and Dolan marks the first time the honor was be given to Medical Reserve Corps members and the first time a joint award has been given, Redington said.

Ellor and Dolan teach a crisis intervention course for Baylor students and are part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Medical Reserve Corps. They were nominated by Debbi Parker, Central Texas Medical Reserve Corps preparedness coordinator with the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.

by Rachel Miller and Kristen Bennett, student newswriters, (254) 710-6805