Some sat quietly and prayed while wiping tears from their cheeks while others sang along with the songs performed by a Marshall County High School graduate, and all listened intently to the messages of hope during the Night of Hope and Healing remembrance ceremony on Jan. 23, two years to the day after the horrific school shooting that took place in the commons area. And while the ceremony was respectfully somber, the overarching theme was one of resilience and optimism as the community moves forward--which made it the perfect time to introduce the Resiliency Center of Marshall County.
Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center (MHDCC) Executive Director Mary Foley recalled the moment she learned of the shooting on the morning of Jan. 23, 2018; she was in Walmart searching for a new tire to replace a flat and when she approached a group of employees huddled together for assistance, they told her what had happened.
"I thought, 'This can't be happening here,' and, 'What does it mean that this is happening here,'" she recalled. "My mind began to race and I remember saying out loud, 'Do you all pray?'…And before we knew anything, we were saying a prayer over the students and teachers and responders…we were strangers in Walmart who will probably never see each other again but in that moment, we had something in common and a way to make a difference. The Resiliency Center of Marshall County is an extension of that."
Foley said a grant recently received by the MHDCC will provide a concrete, tangible place located in the court square of Benton where members of the community may come to find long-term support and healing as they learn how to "overcome, bounce back and heal."
The concept of a resiliency center is not unique -- there's one in Newtown, Connecticut, where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took place, and another in Boston, where the Boston Marathon bombing took place -- but each center is unique because it is shaped by and conforms to the needs of the community in which it lives, Foley said.
The idea, she added, is not limited to helping heal from what has already happened, but also preventing it from happening again.
"While we can't undo what happened two years ago, we can learn how to connect with each other in a different way and become a beacon of healing hope," she said.
Foley said the center, which will be staffed with a team of psychologists, is scheduled to open in March. All services will be free of charge, including support and assistance through the upcoming trial in June; advocacy including providing resources and connections to community partners; community events; community education on trauma and violence; therapy with licensed mental health professionals trained in trauma, coping and resiliency; therapeutic groups; peer support groups.
Cody Myers, a MCHS graduate, performed a number of songs as part of the ceremony and Richie Clendenen, the pastor with Christian Fellowship who's also a MC Schools employee, shared a message of hope and rebuilding through the story of Nehemiah from the Bible. Each member of the community who attended the ceremony was encouraged to take a rock from a basket as they left the ceremony; the rock is supposed to serve as a reminder that we, like Nehemiah, are rebuilding.