Community Resilience Project in the Aftermath of 9/11, Arlington County
By Jackie Bong-Wright
Impact on Pentagon Survivors
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon had a powerful effect on the Arlington County community. According to the 2000 US Census, Arlington County has a total population of about 190,000 and is culturally, socially, and economically diverse. More than one out of five residents is foreign-born, and one in four speaks a language other than English. More than 30% of Arlington residents are non-white, including 18.6% Hispanic, 9.3% African Americans, 8.6% Asians, and a growing number of Arlingtonians identify with the Muslim faith.
In addition to the massive loss of 189 lives and the injury of 45 others at the Pentagon site, the widespread, repetitious dissemination of video, audio, and still images of the terrorist events and their aftermath, had a significant psychological, political, and economic impact on the Arlington population. These effects were intensified by the ongoing threats of additional danger. The terrorist attacks and the ongoing threat of danger might have created a sense of vulnerability and fearfulness, uncertainty, and even a sense of helplessness for some Arlingtonians that could persist for a long time and even led some people to psychological difficulties. In order to avoid prolonged pathological effects and long-term post-traumatic syndrome disorder, crisis-counseling interventions are vital.
Another impact of the disaster on Arlington involved the decline of operations at Reagan National Airport and the loss of thousands of jobs in the transportation, tourism and hospitality industries. The sudden and unexpected economic decline also might have resulted in emotional effects on the Arlington community at large. Furthermore, special consideration must be given to the Arab-American and Muslim communities, where some reported incidents of harassment, acts of violence and hate crimes as a result of 9/11.
Intervention Strategies and Crisis Counseling
In response to the direct and ripple effects of the terrorist disaster, the Community Resilience Project (CRP), under the umbrella of the Arlington County Community Services Board (CSB), Arlington County, Virginia, received funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide individual and group crisis counseling along with education, information and referral services to the persons who live and work within the County. With its 36 counselors, speaking over fifteen different languages, the CRP has been providing outreach services in the community since October, 2001.
The CRP has used the approach of contacting about a hundred civic and community-based associations within Arlington neighborhoods as starting points from which to provide services to target population. They also deployed counselors to reach out to children and adolescents in public schools; adults in shelters, detention centers, and single family and apartment complexes; as well as seniors in retirement homes. In addition, the CRP has provided substance abuse, anti-domestic violence, stress management, and coping skills workshops. The CRP also provides resource materials to the public and a 24-hour hot-line (including TTY access). They have contacted police, fire departments, and military personnel as well as their family members. Finally, they have conducted tobacco, substance abuse, domestic violence, stress management and coping skills workshops.
To commemorate the six-month anniversary of the 9/11 disaster, Dr. Ruby E. Brown, the CRP’s director, and the CRP staff organized a town hall meeting at George Mason University, Arlington campus on March 11, 2002. It was co-sponsored by GMU’s Center for the Advancement of Public Health. This forum, with over 150 attendees, allowed people to reflect on where we have been, to consider on where we are now, and to look ahead to see where we are going both personally and as a community in the hearing process from the events of 9/11. The forum featured presentations by representatives from the media, Red Cross, the U.S. Army’s Pentagon Angels, Arlington County Emergency Services, Police Department, Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, and the Ethiopian Community Development Council. The presentations included topics such as emergency preparedness, mental health effects, impact on the press, effects on immigrant and refugee communities, grief programs, and finally the Red Cross perspective.
In April, Dr. Chandra Singh, team leader of CRP’s multi-cultural team, led the team in convening a Multi-Cultural Community Leaders meeting at the Department of Human Services in Arlington. The objective was to bring together representatives from immigrant and ethnic groups and from public and private institutions to reach an understanding on how to improve relations and services to the Arlington ethnic and immigrant community. Forty participants from Hispanic, Middle-Eastern, Arabic, Islamic, and Asian backgrounds attended the function.
Mr. Faroud Arsanjani, President, House of Iran, and Vice-President of the Immigrant Empowerment Council (IEC), was invited to speak. The IEC, he explained, is a non-profit membership organization comprising a network of immigrant organizations and groups from diverse ethnic communities that supports civic participation in the metropolitan area. Its goal is to increase the participation of immigrants in civic affairs and to assist mainstream institutions, systems and the community at large to become more inclusive and responsive to all immigrants.
The IEC provides a forum for these organizations to exchange information and resources, and to identify opportunities for collaboration. It focuses on two major activities, the first of which is to expand IEC membership to create a stronger voice for immigrants in the metropolitan region. The second is to strengthen and support the immigrant parent engagement groups to ensure that their children receive the best education possible.
The second speaker at the Multicultural Community Leaders Meeting was Mr. Walter Tejada, Multicultural Community Activist. He talked about the successes and challenges in organizing communities, and urged immigrant groups to take an active part as a way of showing their civic allegiance and empowering themselves.
Finally, the CRP’s staff, clad in white T-shirts with blue “Community Resilience” logos, took part in Arlington Neighborhood Day on May 11. They marched in a parade with a thousand other Arlington residents comprising 41 groups, including civic associations, businesses, schools, PTAs, churches, and ethnic communities. Preceding the marchers were motor units, police and sheriff honor guards, Horses, The U.S. Military Fife and Drum, 20 antique cars, Veterans Common USA, and the 80th Infantry Memorial Association.
The parade ended up at the Arlington Court House Plaza, where a Multi-Cultural Festival took place. Congressman Jim Moran visited the booths where people were exhibiting arts and crafts from various countries. Christopher Zimmerman, Chairman of the Arlington County Board, read a proclamation declaring May 11 “Neighborhood Day.” He said that it was an occasion where neighborhoods could come together to participate in projects, work as a team, improve a richly diverse community, renew old acquaintances, and honor Arlington’s young people. The afternoon concluded with folk dances and songs from ten ethnic groups and modern dance teenagers in Arlington schools were performing to the delight of a packed audience.