Local counselors help grieving El Paso community, still serving Sutherland Springs survivors

SA Ecumenical Center counselors are often called to scenes of mass shootings

SAN ANTONIO – They’re the often overlooked first responders.

Counselors from the Ecumenical Center who cover the San Antonio region are often called to the scenes of mass shootings to care for survivors, grieving family members and communities as a whole. 

They were recently called to serve the city of El Paso, reeling after this month's mass shooting. 

The counselors are also continuing their care in Sutherland Springs, even two years after that tragedy. 

On Nov. 5 2017, counselors like Mary Beth Fisk got to Sutherland Springs just an hour and a half after a man opened fire inside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. 

"We assisted with comforting the families as they waited to hear such tragic information. For some who lost loved ones, we assisted with the death notifications, along with the Texas Rangers," said Fisk, who is the CEO of the Ecumenical Center. 

As the days wore on, services transitioned but never faded.

"We also bring music therapy, art therapy, pet therapy, which can be very important for the first responders. We sent counselors to the elementary, middle and high schools," Fisk said. 

For every mass casualty they cover, they work alongside national teams like the FBI, but those agencies often only stay for about two weeks. Ecumenical Center staff continue care long-term, sometimes for years. 

"We still have an office in Sutherland Springs. Our focus is on children. We also now have an office at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, where we have a counselor," Fisk said.
It was just three days after the El Paso Walmart shooting that the FBI called Fisk, requesting assistance from the Ecumenical Center. 

They sent six different teams to El Paso, in six different shifts. Those counselors started at the enormous memorial, where they found many families who had lost loved ones. 

"There was gentleman we spoke with who’d lost his wife, and this was his place to come to grieve her loss," Fisk said.

Many of the people they served in El Paso were first responders

"They’re in ‘take care of everybody’ mode, but when things settle down and they get some rest, they’re also going to need some assistance because they have seen things that are just not normal," she explained. 

The last counseling team got back to San Antonio last week, but their service was so valued, the FBI and city of El Paso asked that they return and continue care for their community.

"We’re very humbled to be called in to service, whatever that may look like," Fisk said.

They're prepared to let grief and healing take their time and continue to serve there as long as they are needed. 

Each year, the Ecumenical Center in and around San Antonio serves roughly 25,000 people.

Clients at the center have many different needs and are not just violence survivors. 

The phone number is 210-616-0885.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.