After a recent violent rampage in Isla Vista left six people dead and 13 injured, UC Santa Barbara students, faculty, staff, and Isla Vista residents are still trying to heal and move forward from the harrowing ordeal. The Santa Barbara community and many others have rallied around the university and surrounding neighborhood, offering support and resources for those affected by the tragedy. Santa Barbara Response Network is continuing to offer Psychological First Aid, providing compassion to those needing a human connection in the aftermath.
SBRN Mobilizes Compassion Patrol Members to Support the Isla Vista Community
The evening of May 23 saw an unspeakable tragedy in Isla Vista, California. Santa Barbara Response Network learned of the situation that very night from a member of the sheriff’s department, who is also part of SBRN’s large network of volunteers. Anthony Rodriguez, chief of operations for SBRN, began to mobilize team members so that they could come into Isla Vista if they were needed. At about 1:00 a.m., the sheriff’s department confirmed SBRN would need to begin its work in Isla Vista the next day.
“Our organization never over steps its boundaries in responding to an incident because ultimately, we do not want to lose the trust we have built up in the community,” said Anthony. “Post-intervention becomes prevention if you help someone dealing with trauma. The service we provide is extremely valuable because people understand that for us it is all about the heart. We are providing one of the most important things you can provide in traumatic times – just being there to listen.”
SBRN established a Compassion Center in Isla Vista, a physical location and sustained operation that was in place for two months after the shootings. This is a unique situation for SBRN, and really an innovation, because the organization typically tailors its involvement to the incident, with volunteers meeting individuals or groups where they feel most comfortable, whether that be in a person’s home, a church, or school. Playing off of the name given to the Isla Vista Police Department (the officers are known as the IV Foot Patrol), SBRN named its volunteer team the Compassion Patrol and began providing mobile outreach support for the community. Over 80 volunteers donated a total of more than 400 hours in response to the Isla Vista tragedy, and are still volunteering today. The Santa Barbara Foundation was pleased to provide an emergency grant to help make this work possible.
“Coming into the community, we did not assume anything and I feel like we asked the right questions to determine what had already been done and what the needs would be,” said Sergio Castellanos, board member for SBRN. “From our questions and conversations we found that there were layers of responses in relation to need as Isla Vista is a very diverse community.”
Psychological First Aid Offers Unique Response to Community Need
SBRN was founded as an all-volunteer, grassroots organization in response to a cluster suicide that happened in Santa Barbara in 2009. Today, SBRN’s mission is to offer Psychological First Aid and response in the aftermath of critical and traumatic incidences. The organization must be invited into the community to begin its work, an invitation that can be extended by an individual, family, or organization. SBRN is unique in that it is not an agency doing mandated work, but instead consists of a group of committed volunteers giving both their heart and their time.
“An individual does not have to have a specific background to volunteer with SBRN. We are looking for compassionate citizens, and there are many people in the community who are fully qualified to help us, although they may not know that about themselves,” said Gil Reyes, executive director of SBRN. “People tend to think we only need experienced grief counselors, psychologists, that kind of thing. But really, we can use anyone who has that type of humanity about them, where they are able to be around someone who is in pain.”
“We are compassionate citizens, responding in a unique way to those in need,” Sergio added. “When something traumatic happens, and an individual feels as if he or she is losing that human connection, SBRN helps that individual get that connection again so that they can move forward.
SBRN provides Psychological First Aid training in both English and Spanish to its volunteers, preparing them to be more efficient and effective as compassionate community responders. Volunteers are trained on how to use eight core actions, which are seen as culturally sensitive and responsive tools that can be adapted to uniquely fit overwhelming situations. Part of a volunteer’s work is to normalize with a grieving individual, helping this person to get oriented so that it is easier to make decisions and to feel in charge of their life.
“We have a sort of dos and don’ts list for Psychological First Aid – do listen; don’t talk too much; do demonstrate your curiosity; don’t ask too many questions. We do not want people to feel like they are being interviewed, let alone interrogated,” said Gil. “But we do want people to know that we are open and caring for what they have to say. We send a validation of the individual’s experience that is also interlaced with a gentle sense of hope.”
SBRN is purposely narrow in scope, mostly responding to suicides and violence. The organization is not interested in duplicating services, but instead collaborates with the people in the community who are in place already doing their jobs well.
“I think it is a very powerful message when you show up to help someone – you are not getting paid for it, there is no ‘reason’ for you to be there except for the fact that you want to provide assistance,” said Jina Carvalho, public information officer for SBRN. “I have seen some painful stuff for sure. But to be able to help our community feels really good. What we do is very human and necessary.”
The Future of the Santa Barbara Response Network
In its own way, SBRN has come to terms with the fact that there is a lot more violence in the world then most people want to admit. Its response to this realization is to change the climate of violence by seeing compassion as the anecdote. For SBRN, the future is not just about crisis response, but doing more to prevent traumatic experiences from happening, getting ahead of the situation so that the organization is not always coming from a reactionary position.
“None of us could have prevented the situation that happened in Isla Vista, but we can do more to influence our local culture so violent means are not preferred,” said Gil. “Research shows that exposure to violent situations in childhood lead to poor health in adulthood, poor earnings in adulthood, and a shorter life. We want to be interrupters by pouring compassion on the fire of violence so that we can keep it from spreading – not just helping the folks who need to heal from that pain, but also keeping the pain from spreading.”