Chardon, Ohio - Since 1852, when a group of Cleveland women addressed a need for a facility to house and tend to orphans, children suffering from cholera epidemics, and those suffering abuse and neglect, Beech Brook has been there helping children and families in need.
So, it was fitting that within an hour of hearing of a tragic school shooting affecting hundreds of families in Geauga County's seat, Chardon, that Beech Brook dispatched 60 counselors to offer their professional services. In the year since, over 500 of Beech Brook's staff and volunteers have helped those searching for answers to cope with a traumatic event after three children died at the alleged hands of a fellow student.
Assistant Vice President of Clinical Services at Beech Brook, Kate Biddle, was one of the first to arrive on the front lines of Chardon's immediate response to its students and their family's mental health needs. Counseling centers were set up next to Superintendent Joseph Bergant's Board of Education office in Chardon's Middle School. Biddle clearly remembers her heart dropping as she looked at the countless young faces searching for answers that morning.
"I just remember being profoundly moved and my heart breaking open as I watched these parents try to make sense out of what just happened. Trying to figure out how best to support their kids, said Biddle.
Biddle explained that each child and parent offered individual challenges that Beech Brook specialists are still handling one year later. Reflecting on the initial day of the shooting, she remembers the strength of each student. Her organization of Beech Brook's intervention movement is why many there are coping and helping others themselves.
"Some of the kids wanted to talk alone with somebody, because they were worried about distressing their parents... sometimes it was the parent that was more in distress than the child, so we really had to kind of assess very quickly what was the need," said Biddle. "There's sort of a system for really helping people debrief constructively as much as possible, but you really have to figure out how to apply that system of thinking and way of relating so it meets the need of the people coming in."
A year later Beech Brook is still helping Chardon's school families seek out further help, finding their way forward in coping with their grief. Many students and parents with traumatic events in their lives prior to the shooting found that the tragedy applified their feelings to a level of concern, seeking help immediately. Biddle says there is still much healing to be done.
"There are many kids that are struggling with how to make sense out of this and what it means to them personally, and that it has knocked some of them off-balance, and it's going to take a long time for them to truly heal, this isn't done in one year."
For those seeking Beech Brook's help go to: www.beechbrook.org or call 216-831-2255.
Beech Brook is a contract agency of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County.