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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 12, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 2
On the ground in Louisiana

By Dennis O'Shea

It started in Mississippi: They saw 100-foot trees snapped like twigs and littering the interstate. Huge highway signs twisted like balled-up like candy wrappers. Gasoline lines around the block.

In Louisiana, Eric Green and Alan Green saw cars piled on top of each other in ditches. People wandering aimlessly, walking down the street in a daze.

And when they finally got where they were going Wednesday night-the southwest Louisiana town of Opelousas-the two SPSBE faculty members found thousands of displaced persons. They were sleeping in cars. Hanging out in parking lots. Playing on the concrete aprons of shuttered gas stations. And living on cots in crowded shelters.

"It's heart-wrenching," said Eric Green, until last year a New Orleans resident and now assistant professor of counseling and human services in SPSBE's Graduate Division of Education. Many of the people they saw in shelters, he said, "looked dazed and scared and, even after a week, looked like they were suffering from shock."

Green and his colleague, Alan Green, an associate professor and coordinator of school counseling at SPSBE, drove to St. Landry Parish, northwest of New Orleans, to set up a program to attend to the psychological needs of children wrenched from their homes by Katrina, the Level 4 hurricane that ravaged Louisiana on Aug. 29.

The kids-a thousand or more-were evacuated to Opelousas, an area less seriously crippled by wind and water but unequipped to handle the tide of evacuees from the New Orleans area.

Eric Green said the kids are experiencing symptoms akin to trauma.

"These children, many of them have lost their homes," he said. "They've been taken out of their schools. They've lost friends and extended family members. This creates instability, and children need stability and structure in their lives."

Young children, Green said by phone from Louisiana Friday, aren't ready cognitively to appreciate the enormity of the hurricane, the floods that came in its aftermath and Katrina's long-term consequences for the Gulf Coast. But they do know what's happened to them, even though-at their age-they can't adequately express their concerns and fears to parents or shelter workers.

The result, Green said, can be anything from withdrawal to uncontrollable crying to hyperactivity, aggression or other inappropriate behavior. To try to head off those problems for children too young for conventional therapy, the Greens and colleague Kristi Gibbs of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga are setting up programs in play therapy, a technique in which kids are helped to vent their feelings through play, for them a natural medium of expression.

"They know they're not in their rooms, they don't have their toys and they don't have their friends," Green said. "What we're doing is to try to help these kids regain their sense of belonging and, in some way, that may help them feel better about the uncertainty of what they're experiencing. We can play with them and help them find some sense of peace in a chaotic environment."

Several colleagues from around the country were on their way to Louisiana to join the initial team over the weekend. In the meantime, Alan Green was headed to Shreveport to coordinate efforts there. In Opelousas, the team scheduled a mass training session Monday for principals, counselors and teachers who will be working with the displaced kids for, at least, months. The two Greens (who are not related) say they plan to spend two weeks in Louisiana before returning to Baltimore.

Eric Green said they were grateful to SPSBE, and especially Dean Ralph Fessler, for support of their volunteer effort. Colleagues were covering their classes, and students were tolerant of the disruption to the start of the semester, he said.

Whether in St. Landry Parish or back in Baltimore, he said, everyone was pulling together "for the same ultimate goal: to show compassion for these people in need down here in Louisiana."

The team is grateful for the many donations they've received so far. Anyone interested in helping may send cash or toys, dolls, puppets, sand miniatures and picture books and children's reading materials directly to Eric Green's uncle:

The Rev. Monsignor Paul Metrejean
136 Metrejean Lane
Opelousas, LA 70570


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