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Trauma Intervention Program NW and the Dougy Center offer emotional support following violent deaths.

COURTESY PHOTO: TRAUMA INTERVENTION PROGRAM NW - Volunteers from the Portland-based nonprofit Trauma Intervention Program NW, in a photo provided by the program.Portland's dramatic increase in shootings has left many people grieving in the aftermath of a loved one's violent death.

Such deaths are abrupt, and their circumstances can traumatize friends and family of those who have died, making access to emotional support critical.

Two local nonprofits — Trauma Intervention Program NW and the Dougy Center — have been working for years to provide thoughtful, professional support at no cost to people who have had a friend or family member die from gun violence.

The scope of the organizations is much wider than gun homicides. And their objectives are different — TIPNW responds immediately after a death and the Dougy Center offers longer-term support. But officials from both nonprofits say their services complement each other and are increasingly important.

Of the 90 homicides in Portland last year, 67 of the victims died from gunshot wounds, according to the Portland Police Bureau. Total homicides in 2021 far surpassed the previous record of 66 in 1987.

Rates of gun violence overall are at record highs. Shootings in Portland increased by 43% in 2021, police data show, and the city is on pace to shatter last year's total. Between January and April last year, there had been 359 shootings. There were 483 during that timeframe this year, with 129 of them causing injuries.

In less than 24 hours between Friday, May 27, and Saturday, May 28, there were 10 people struck by gunfire in Portland. One of the victims died.

"When you're standing in front of people who have lost a loved one — regardless of how — people are hurting," said June Vining, director of TIPNW.

The nonprofit sends trained volunteers to give emotional aid and practical support to people within hours of a traumatic death.

"What we do is show up and listen so they're not alone," Vining said. "We are not professional counselors, we are simply human beings coming alongside another human being to care."

The upward trend in shootings has been clear for volunteers at TIPNW, Vining said, adding, "We have seen our call volume go up."

Trained volunteers

Trauma Intervention Program NW has roughly 200 volunteers who receive requests for service from first responders, police or hospitals through the local emergency response system.

The organization has a huge coverage area, including most of the Portland metro area and, with an additional team launched earlier this month, the lower Columbia River Gorge.

Volunteers go through an intensive 60-hour training course over two weeks and then a three-month field training program before graduating.

Every call is different, but TIPNW's approach to a gun-related homicide or any other situation is the same, Vining said.

Volunteers receive training that allows them to use the five emotional first aid skills — reach out, protect, reassure, organize and reinforce — which are supported by research, Vining said.

The skills give volunteers the tools to be present, protect someone from acting impulsively or experiencing additional trauma following a death, validate eagerness for information in sometimes unclear situations, help people create practical plans, and lean into sources of strength, Vining said.

"I teach these citizen volunteers basically what to say — or more importantly, what not to say — when they walk into a complete stranger's life, on probably the worst day of their life," she said. "It's like doing a dance. A good dance partner follows the leader, and the leader is the person you're helping."

TIPNW volunteers follow up with clients 30 days after they first received services, to ask how they're doing and make sure they have access to additional resources if they need them.

COURTESY PHOTO: DOUGY CENTER - A mother and son stand outside the Dougy Center at 3909 S.E. 52nd Ave. in Portland, where they attend grief support groups.

Longer-term care

Vining said sometimes it's apparent, particularly if a family has young kids, that people would benefit from ongoing support in a group setting, and she refers them to the Dougy Center.

The center is an internationally renowned bereavement resource that offers peer support groups tailored to people's ages, their relationship to the person who died and the circumstances of the death.

More than 2,500 people receive service at the center each year, according to the nonprofit. The center receives 30,000 crisis, information and intake calls annually. It also provides grief support training to 8,000 people annually and offers services to schools and other community groups following the death of a community member.

The center provides a support group specifically for youths ages 6 to 12 who have experienced a loved one's violent death. People seeking services following a violent death can be part of the center's other support groups, too, said Alysha Lacey, director of program services at the Dougy Center.

PMG PHOTO: MAX EGENER - Photos of people's deceased loved ones line the wall of the Dougy Center, a Portland-based nonprofit that offers several peer support groups to people grieving a death."All deaths have complicating factors," Lacey said. "And violent death, specifically, just has so many things that are added layers."

People at the center following a violent death often receive support longer than other groups, she said. Case investigations and court proceedings following a homicide can prolong and complicate people's grief. Justice system outcomes can be important resolutions, but they can't undo death, Lacey added.

People who die from gun violence are often perceived by the public to be connected to criminality, which leaves their loved ones with a harmful stigma, she said.

Additionally, people whose loved ones died from gun violence often have a lot of fear that other people close to them are at risk of the same fate.

The center's support groups provide grieving people a space to engage with their emotional response to loss freely, said Brennan Wood, executive director of the Dougy Center.

"Grief is a natural, normal, healthy response to loss of any kind," said Wood, who first came to the center as a group participant when she was 12, after the death of her mother.

Participants need "understanding, support, community and the opportunity to feel what they're feeling and express what they're going through in ways that are meaningful and relevant to them," she said.

PMG PHOTO: MAX EGENER - In addition to the grief support groups offered by the Dougy Center, the nonprofit also produces educational literature for grieving people and community members.Groups are highly participant-led, Wood said. People can share stories about their deceased loved ones, talk about how they're feeling or say nothing at all. Kids can use puppets to talk through conversations, play games with peers who've had a similar experience or blow off steam in the center's "volcano room," which features padded walls and soft objects.

The center's services are not therapy, but all program leaders have master's-level credentials in social service fields and they refer clients to clinical resources if need be, Wood said.

For more information about the Dougy Center and TIPNW, visit their websites.

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