When a natural disaster or other extreme event hits a community, there is often an immediate response – neighbors and strangers donating their time, money, household goods and shelter, jolted into quick action out of compassion. This happened last fall, when Whatcom and Skagit counties experienced catastrophic flooding that impacted thousands of people and displaced over 500 households.
But a less visible response to these disasters is long-term recovery – such as, after the flood waters have receded. After surviving a disaster, individuals and communities experience trauma and stress, and need help recovering emotionally and mentally, in addition to home repair and replacing items lost.
The North Sound Listens team, a partnership of North Sound ACH and the Health Care Authority, provides peer support and crisis counseling to our neighbors impacted by the November 2021 floods and its aftermath. They are on the ground and on the phone, talking to folks Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish.
“Just to have someone listen to your story, that makes a huge difference for survivors,” said Nicole Donovan, program manager for North Sound Listens. The five-person team – Donovan, Maria Santos, Mario Morales, Cindy Harrington, and Tonya Bieche – was formed in April 2022, as part of North Sound ACH’s plan to support rapid community response in emergency situations.
North Sound Listens is one part of a multifaceted recovery – they work with many other organizations in the community, as well as city, county, state, and federal agencies to try and coordinate the needs of impacted residents. At different stages in recovery, some people need case management – case managers coordinate resource referrals, help with paperwork and recovery plans, schedule volunteers to assist in house repair or other needs. Other times, people need someone like Maria, Mario, Cindy, and Tonya to just listen.
Maria, who has also worked as a homeopathic health and wellness coach, said she asks open ended questions and lets the person she’s visiting lead the conversation. Building trust takes time, and acceptance of help is not always immediate. But the team are present at community spaces, like the Nooksack Food Bank, as well as making regular follow up visits or phone calls, and Maria said this has helped the community to open up to her and her teammates.
Mario has previous experience in emergency management and security, and said that without other agencies and coordination, the North Sound Listens team can’t do the work that they do; everyone sharing resources is what it takes, he said. The North Sound Listens team works with organizations such as the Whatcom Long Term Recovery Group (formerly Whatcom Strong), Opportunity Council, Community Action of Skagit, Nooksack Food Bank, American Legion, Ferndale Community Services, among others.
A lot of community members that the North Sound Listens team meet downplay what they’ve been through, expressing that they don’t want to ‘take from the pie’ of resources, Tonya said, and the others agreed they see this as well. But by expressing their needs and giving attention to their mental health, they are actually building the pie for everyone. “Asking for what you need is a strength, it makes everyone better and stronger,” Tonya said.
If you or someone you know has been impacted by the November 2021 floods in Whatcom or Skagit County and needs someone to talk to, call (360) 935-0105. The team is available 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, but you can leave a message in any language and someone will return your call. You can also email NorthSoundListens@northsoundach.org.
Read more about the 2021 flood recovery:
The flooding of Everson, Washington by NBC News
Neighbors of Swift Creek displaced by asbestos by Cascadia Daily News