By Maleesa Johnson
Two Baylor professors were awarded for their efforts in response to the fertilizer plant explosion in West.
Dr. Sara Dolan, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Dr. James Ellor, a professor in the school of social work, were awarded the 2013 Jack Colley Citizen Corps Leadership Award on Wednesday. According to Capital Area Council of Governments website, this award is given by the Texas Association of Regional Councils in recognition of exemplary leadership and service to communities in Texas.
“I was really surprised,” Dolan said. “I didn’t know that we had been nominated, and never in a million years would I think about getting accolades for something I did because I was called to do it. It was definitely a calling.”
Ellor said he shared a similar response of surprise in being awarded. He said this award is typically given to people who are courageous in first response, such as a police chief or fire captain.
“This is the first time that anyone from a psycho-social perspective has been so honored,” Ellor said. “We were really grateful that this was able to turn a spotlight on the emotional needs of tragedies around the state rather than just the physical needs which obviously are very real and need to be supported.”
While in West, Ellor and Dolan offered help to those going through crisis. Both are co-chairs of the Heart of Texas Medical Reserve Corp. With this corp, they formed a group that consisted of faculty, alumni and some students to volunteer in West using their counseling expertise to comfort people.
“Dr. Ellor and Dr. Dolan have been there and committed week after week, month after month,” said Dr. Diana Garland, dean of the school of social work. “They have taken their professional expertise as faculty at Baylor volunteering to provide services that are needed and find out what services are needed to the ongoing recovery in West.”
The morning after the explosion, they worked to help notify families of the deceased. After that, they helped in the process of rehoming people.
Ellor said that in the case of a disaster like the explosion in West, there are multiple phases and varying ways to help, depending on the phase.
“In each phase our role is a little different,” Ellor said. “In the first phase, we were there in grief and response, walking with people. In the second phase we were still there in grief and response, offering support groups and doing counseling. In the third phase, we are trying to help people with long term coping and getting their lives back together.”
Ellor said that they are currently in the third phase. On the first Sunday of December, he is organizing a group of carolers to sing Christmas songs through the West community. He invites organizations, fraternities, sororities and whoever may be interested to reach out in this volunteer opportunity. Ellor said if anyone is interested, to call his office.
Dolan said the whole experience was rewarding. She said the most memorable moment was helping a man who had lost family and walking him through the acute grief that accompanies that loss. Ellor said it was memorable to see people find their faith through the blast. People would say as they reentered their house for the first time that the cross on the wall was the last thing hanging. Others reported that the only book they could find was the Bible.
“People would come up to me and say ’do you see that cross?’” Ellor said. “They would have tons of other things hanging on their walls that had fallen off, but the cross remained.”