Alumna answers the call for help in times of crises

Machelle Madsen Thompson
Machelle Madsen Thompson

Alumna Machelle Madsen Thompson is known at the FSU College of Social Work, where she is a researcher and adjunct professor, and in the local community for her multi-faceted community outreach and advocacy. This fall, Dr. Thompson was on the front line for two major events in the Tallahassee area, assisting with recovery after both Hurricane Michael and the mass shooting at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida.

After Hurricane Michael, she received a request from Destiny Tolbert, faith leader and director of ShadeTree Group, an organization promoting resilience in under-served rural youths living in poverty. Would Dr. Thompson be willing to assist with disaster relief in Gretna, Florida? Gretna is a rural town hit hard by the hurricane and the accompanying tornado. For several days, Thompson coordinated volunteers to provide relief at the Gretna Helen Franks Community Center.

“FEMA had just started meeting with residents there,” said Dr. Thompson,” so it was a perfect place to begin comprehensive outreach.”

Hurricane Relief Helpers
Hurricane relief volunteers at the Gretna Helen Franks Community Center.

Within hours of Tolbert’s request, Thompson was connecting with key contacts in Gretna and the surrounding area, including the city manager, chief of police, key faith leaders, and other community leaders. The volunteers worked tirelessly from their base in the community center, mobilizing donations from all system levels.

“Donations and services ranging from individuals to organizations came pouring in while community members, mostly youths, began distribution,” she explained.

Materials and services provided included pet care needs, baby and hygiene products, food and yard cleanup. In less than two weeks Tolbert had returned and the city manager had announced that the Gretna community was well on its way into recovery and that no further donations were necessary.

“I was so proud of the growth and empowerment families are experiencing,” Dr. Thompson said about the Gretna community, an area when she has been providing social services and counseling for some years. “Ms. Tolbert and I are beginning groups for youths and families in January of 2019 funded with grants to study and increase resilience.”

Shortly after Hurricane Michael came the tragedy of a mass shooting at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida on November 2nd an FSU student, Maura Binkley, and FSU faculty member, Dr. Nancy Van Vessem, were killed.

Two days after the shooting, with the FSU community reeling from the tragedy, Thompson was scheduled to present on mindfulness for a group of 250 FSU honor students. Working with Megan Gillman, Assistant Director of the FSU Honors Program, Thompson added an essential component to her presentation on resilience following trauma to assist the students through this terrible time of loss.

Dr.  Thompson presented on current resilience research, suggesting specific ways for students to understand and increase their protective factors. Thompson noted that protective factors work cumulatively to offset the negative effects of traumatic events and that research supports the concept of mindfulness as a building block for resilience.

“Gillman [a yoga instructor at Hot Yoga Tallahassee] courageously followed with a discussion on the power of mindfulness across every type of situation,” Thompson reflected. “We processed the event and life challenges with several students for almost an hour following the presentation. For us, it brought a glimmer of healing and hope to a horrific situation.”

Gillman and Thompson also joined forces at a recent conference co-sponsored by the FSU College of Social Work and the Academy on Violence and Abuse, both presenting on mindfulness and resilience following, trauma, and tragedy.

“Humanity, to me, is like our body. If I break an arm, I don’t look at it and try to throw a little money or Band-Aids at it. I see it as part of my essence, part of what makes me whole and able to better live, work, love, and serve,” emphasized r. Thompson. “We do not work in isolation; our work to heal and support one small part of our little planet, in the end, makes a huge difference to the overall health of society. Our skills and focused compassion can change the world.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2018 - 02:54 PM
Last updated: Wed, 03/20/2019 - 10:24 AM