For CHHSM organizations serving the Ferguson, Missouri, area, recent events have led them to find new ways to step in and serve a devastated community.
Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, made headlines last August when an unarmed African-American teen was fatally shot by a white police officer. The town, which was already struggling with poverty and underlying issues of racism, exploded. Some protestors clashed with police, looting shops and vandalizing vehicles. Other residents responded peacefully, with calls for justice and changes to improve the lives of Ferguson residents.
Unlike after a natural disaster, residents and businesses in Ferguson are less able to move on because they are still coping with daily trauma, says the Rev. Cindy Bumb, vice president of spiritual care for Emmaus Homes, Inc.
Trauma and unrest continue for the residents and businesses of Ferguson and for the greater St. Louis area. “We’re not getting back to what was considered ‘normal’ before,” Bumb says. Arrests are still going on, as are nonviolent protests calling for racial justice and improvements in education, employment, and policing. Residents remain uneasy, wondering if these long-standing issues will effectively be addressed.
Area CHHSM organizations are using their strengths to help the Ferguson community.
After the shooting, Deaconess Faith Community Nurse Ministries increased the number of its drop-in clinics at the Ferguson Community Center. The clinics offer free health checks for high blood pressure and blood sugar levels. And because the organization takes a holistic approach to health care, it also uses the screenings as an opportunity for counseling.
“It’s sometimes crushing and too much for the person who is in the center of it all,” says Rev. Donna Smith-Pupillo, executive director of Deaconess Faith Community Nurse Ministries. “That’s why we see more people now wanting to reach out.”
Neighborhood Houses, an organization that focuses on childcare, will offer services in the summer when elementary-age children are out of school and often unsupervised, says Darlene Sowell, president and CEO.
The organization received a grant for a summer camp in 2015, which will provide fun and educational activities for 105 students. A key component of the camp will be character development, including providing tools children can use to address conflict. Although Neighborhood Houses has held camps in the St. Louis area before, this will be the first time it offers a camp in Ferguson.
Bumb finds a positive note emerging from the unrest in Ferguson.
“Because of the attention, people’s eyes are being opened to the systemic injustice that has been occurring,” Bumb says. “Our community is changing, and there’s some real hope in that.”