Five years after the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, it’s still OK not to feel OK.
In the wake of Route 91, the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center has emerged as a lifeline for those affected by the Strip disaster, offering solace and resources to survivors, family members, first responders and the general public. And that service has only gotten more ambitious with time.
“It’s been like building a plane as you fly it, but there’s no manual for this,” says Tennille Pereira, director of the center. “Even if you look at other mass violence incidents, they’re all different, and the community resources are all different. But we’ve learned so much, and we’ve really been able to advocate for a lot of changes with our victim services and begin to integrate into emergency management so we’re better prepared.”
The 4,700-square-foot-center, managed by the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, serves and provides outreach to as many as 700 people per month, connecting them with mental health resources, legal aid, financial assistance and crime victim advocacy. In simple terms, Vegas Strong Resiliency Center professionals advocate for the mentally taxed in ways they might never be able to do for themselves.
“If there is a roadblock or hurdle, we essentially work to overcome that on their behalf,” Pereira explains. “I really honestly think that if they were left to do it on their own, they would just throw their hands in the air and walk away.”
Pereira remembers one Route 91 survivor, whose childhood trauma had resurfaced after the shooting. The center connected him not only with a mental health provider who would accept his insurance, but also with financial help for child care, so he could attend appointments. In another circumstance, an undocumented immigrant had been shot in the head in a separate incident. Plagued by seizures, and unable to qualify for medical benefits due to his status, he found the center through Legal Aid. Advocates tirelessly contacted nonprofits in search of a neurosurgeon who would accept a limited number of pro-bono patients. He became one of them.
“You hear stories, you see the devastation and it’s a lot,” Pereira says. “Then every once in a while, you get that one person that comes back and you see the impact on their life. And you’re just grateful you’re able to do that.”
Pereira remembers the influx of clients after the Route 91 shooting. “It was a lot of emotional support and spiritual care referrals,” she recalls. Since then, the center’s role has gradually evolved.
“The workload is shifting, as it should,” Pereira says. “We are seeing a decreased demand for the 1 October services and an increased demand for general victim services throughout the community, which is exactly what should be happening.”
In March, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada received $3 million in funding to broaden the scope of the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center. Pereira says those dollars will go toward building a new location next to where Legal Aid currently resides on East Charleston Avenue. Plans call for that site to provide “wraparound services for all victims of violent crime in Nevada,” Pereira says, but other services from Legal Aid will also operate under the same roof.
Even if demand for Route 91-related services has decreased, this time of year remains difficult, especially given the reactivation of trauma associated with it. “It’s almost like a program is written into our brains,” Pereira says, “and we don’t even have to be consciously thinking about that time coming up. Our brain knows, and it relates the trauma to what was going on at the time—even the smells around fall.”
Feelings and physical responses from the moment of trauma can return, and the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center knows that. As the anniversary of October 1, 2017 approaches, the center has rallied around the community with a series of honorary events. Earlier this week, it hosted a skate night for Las Vegas first responders, and a special online support group for those affected by the tragedy goes live on September 30. Locals can also create custom lanterns that night, a virtual evening of remembrance for the Route 91 victims.
Now, as Vegas Strong Resiliency Center continues to expand and increase its services, Pereira hopes the community will respond. She stresses that the center is always in need of monetary donations, along with mental health professionals to keep it running. Ultimately, she says, the Vegas Valley’s support allows it to continue doing what it does best—”shining light in all of the darkness.”
Vegas Strong Resiliency Center Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., 2915 W. Charleston Blvd. #100. vegasstrongrc.org, 702-455-2433.
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