Family counselors lose office, use church for service
Jan. 12, 2018 at 10:06 p.m.
Updated Jan. 13, 2018 at 6 a.m.
Once the hurricane had passed, Brenda Whitfield drove up to what was once the office for STCH Ministries Family Counseling.
In the parking lot were large sections of the roof and a commercial AC unit.
Inside, nearly everything was ruined with heavy mold.
The family counselors quickly started calling clients to check on them.
They learned the owner of the building was forced to close it indefinitely, and the counselors were displaced.
About the same time, Senior Pastor Mike Hurt, of Parkway Church, was searching for a place to refer congregation members in need of professional counseling services.
Whitfield, who is regional director of STCH Ministries Family Counseling, said Hurt offered Parkway Church's Lone Tree location so they could have a place to see their clients.
They moved in about two weeks after Harvey, and in just more than four months the staff has seen a steady increase in new clients. The licensed counselors meet with at least 200 people each month at the Victoria office, offering short-term counseling services on a donation basis.
Clients range in age from toddlers to senior citizens.
Whitfield said they've listened as clients tell them about precarious living situations with family or not getting the funds they expected for repairs.
"They're going through a lot of struggles," she said. "Their normal is different."
But many clients just need to work through a tough situation with someone who is understanding and willing to offer solutions.
She said sometimes that means finding small ways to get away from the chaos at home or finding support groups or new friends.
The family counseling services through STCH Ministries are Christian-based and are offered regardless of a family's ability to pay.
Many clients find out about the service through word of mouth from the school district, churches or others in the local mental health community.
There is a longer waiting list for counseling because of the demand for services.
"People want it, people need it and it's worth the wait," Hurt said.
The pastor told his congregation about STCH Ministries' struggle to find a new home, and the vote was unanimous to donate land to the organization.
The pastor said the church wants to donate two acres of land on Salem Road so the ministries could build a free-standing center.
Details are still being worked out, he said.
"The mental and emotional health issues in our community are significant, so STCH and the church want to do their part in helping folks address those needs," he said.
Whitfield said the location would be convenient for the office that serves clients throughout the Crossroads.
"It will be wonderful just having the partnership with Parkway Church," she said.
The licensed professional counselor supervisor said recovering from Hurricane Harvey will take time, especially because there are people still grieving their losses.
"I think people drive around Victoria and think everything is fine," she said.
But counselors often hear about situations only discussed behind closed doors.
The staff has heard of more instances of family violence and stress because of finances.
Whitfield estimates about 80 percent of clients were affected by the storm. Some were directly affected, while others suffer from secondary trauma.
Before Harvey, the counselors were focused on preventing suicides.
Last January, counselors went to Patti Welder Middle School to talk to students and staff as they coped with the loss of two classmates.
Lorraine Turner, a licensed professional counselor supervisor who has worked for the organization since 2007, said they are still working to help those affected by those deaths.
In some cases, the deaths triggered reactions from others in the community because it reminded them of past issues, Turner recalled.
In the weeks after Harvey, marriages that were already fragile were pushed toward divorce.
Turner works with couples to strengthen their marriages, which often helps the children in the household.
Among the staff are registered play therapists.
These counselors work with the youngest clients to help them through challenges using therapeutic play as a way to communicate.
Their playground was destroyed by Harvey, but the counselors received a donation of six sets of portable play therapy equipment, which means they can continue offering this service.
Whitfield said the staff of 12 learned something important about the work they do.
"Counseling can happen anywhere," she said. "You just need two folding chairs and a box of tissues."