Out of Tragedy Comes Hope
Some anniversaries you celebrate, and others you reflect. This is about three women who recently reflected on an anniversary that touched their lives.
Peggy Ray, Lori Morgan and Caroline Neal work for LCS Northwest at the Arlington Community Resource Center. They regularly brainstorm for solutions to help struggling individuals and families make ends meet. They help each other out in the office. They share laughs over coffee.
But the glue that forever bonds these three women is the landslide that devastated the sleepy little community of Oso, Washington. On the morning of March 22, 2014, a hillside collapsed and sent tons of mud and debris roaring into the Stillaguamish River valley. In minutes, the mile-wide mudflow buried SR 530 and poured into the river. Forty-three people were killed and dozens of homes were destroyed.
Caroline Neal lost her father that day. A licensed plumber with his own business, Steve Neal was doing work at a home in Oso when the slide occurred. He was one of the 43 victims who died that morning.
Lori Morgan was a newcomer to the community and lived just three houses away from where the devastation stopped. She tapped into her 20 years of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) experience to help rescue survivors and safely evacuate her neighbors.
Peggy Ray, a certified traumatologist, has provided trauma counseling to first responders at disasters around the country. She was called upon by Green Cross Academy of Traumatology to support first responders at this disaster in her home county of Snohomish. She also launched a grief support group for those who lost loved ones.
When the slide happened five years ago, the Arlington Community Resource Center was just an idea on the drawing board, recalled Ray. This tragedy rallied the community into making it a reality. LCS Northwest already managed centers in Snohomish County and stepped up to manage the new one in Arlington.
“I was the first person Lutheran hired,” said Ray, who now manages the Arlington center. “They were already at the table helping with long-term recovery efforts. When the disaster funding ended for grief counseling, LCS retained me to keep the grief group going. They knew people needed a safe space to gather, talk and grieve.”
All three women believe that the center and its grief group were essential for the healing process and helping the community grow strong again.
You never fully heal from a loss of this magnitude, observed Neal, but a support group can help you learn to cope with it. Neal’s mother had encouraged her to reach out to Ray and the group. She was particularly interested in finding resources to help her two sons.
For Morgan, the grief support group became an extended family. She could relate to the untimely loss of a loved one because she had lost her son five years earlier. She has remained active with the group and participates in their events.
Out of tragedy comes hope. In its early days, the Arlington Center helped Oso survivors. Today, the staff help others in the community overcome hardships and challenges to regain hope. The need is great. In 2018, they served 2,008 individuals.
Today, Morgan works as a Housing Navigator for LCS Northwest. She assists families and individuals who lack housing find safe and affordable places to live. Neal is a Support Specialist at the Arlington Center. She helps people meet their basic needs, and connects them to other community resources to get back on their feet.
The support group that formed out of the Oso disaster remains active. They still remember those who were lost, but they also do things to give hope to others. This includes serving meals to homeless individuals on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
“The Arlington Center is a living legacy to the survivors,” said Ray. “We are here for them and because of them.”
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Oso survivor Tim Ward shares his journey of healing after the disaster.