Social workers were among the hundreds of volunteers who counseled students and staff at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in DeKalb, Ill., after a tragic shooting rampage occurred on campus Feb. 14.
Among the 500 volunteers was NASW member Noel Lemke, a medical social worker at Good Sheppard Hospital in Barrington, Ill.
NIU students hold a vigil. (Photo: NIU Media Services)
The counselors helped staff and students cope with the tragedy that left six students dead, including the 27-year-old gunman who police said committed suicide before authorities arrived.
Lemke said she heard about the need for volunteer counselors from an NASW Illinois Chapter e-mail and from a statement posted on the chapter's Web site.
After attending a memorial service and training on campus, the counselors were given red wristbands to wear when the school reopened a little more than a week after the shooting.
"We were assigned to different classes," Lemke said. "We provide psychological first aid and explained where they could go for more resources, and we did one-and-one counseling."
While the mood at the school was a mix of shock and somberness, the community surrounding the campus did its best to express support with signs and banners.
"That was the most touching," Lemke said. "The community really got behind everyone in support."
Lemke noted she met other social workers volunteering their time and expertise at the campus. "It was great to see us all come together to help a community struck by such a devastating tragedy," she said.
"Counseling services at the school were amazing," Lemke added. "They even offered extended hours for students if they wanted to talk."
The NASW Illinois Chapter worked with the DeKalb County Community Mental Health Center in spreading the message about the need for professional counseling volunteers.
In an unfortunate correlation to the event, it was discovered that the gunman was identified as a social work graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was a 2006 sociology graduate of NIU.
A statement signed by the faculty, staff, students and alumni of the Urbana-Champaign school expressed deepest sympathies to the victims' families.
"For the social work community, the situation has been especially difficult to comprehend, as the person responsible for this tragedy was one of our own," the statement read.
"As we provide support to our students, faculty/staff and the community, we remain mindful that such serious actions are not always predictable or understood," the statement continued. "We intend to work together with everyone involved to bring to an end the personal pain and senseless violence."