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Vegas Strong Resiliency Center director discusses how the city is healing 5 years later

A small sign leaning against a window has a black heart with embossing around it, similar to the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. The sign reads “Vegas Strong Resiliency Center.”
Lucretia Cunningham
KUNR Public Radio

Saturday, Oct. 1, marks five years since Nevada was shaken by the largest mass shooting in modern American history. Close to 60 died while attending a concert on the Las Vegas Strip on Oct. 1, 2017. Hundreds were injured, and even more suffer from emotional trauma and grief.

KUNR’s Lucretia Cunningham sat down with Tennille Pereira, who is the director at the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center in Las Vegas, to learn how the city is healing.

Lucretia Cunningham: Can you tell me what kind of services are provided at the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center? 

Tennille Pereira: We do a lot of information sessions or outreach sessions, and they’re geared at educating our survivor and family population, as well as the community as a whole, as well as educating on different types of mental health therapies and then different techniques for calming and coping. One that comes to mind is recovery yoga. It’s not traditional yoga, but it’s done to help people process the trauma that we hold in our bodies.

We do a lot of different things just to break down barriers for people to get services. Some people need a lot of hand-holding because the trauma is really impacting them, and they’re struggling to get connected, or sometimes just do those simple things [like] picking up the phone and calling a mental health provider.

Cunningham: What type of long-term resources does someone impacted by a tragedy like this need?

Pereira: Mental health is a huge one, and that’s where healing takes place. But kind of on the outskirts of their life, everything can be impacted. We do see a lot of legal issues that crop up from that, that people don't always consider, so we do have a fully-staffed legal team here.

They’re trying to focus and process the trauma. And so other aspects of their life can just kind of get pushed to the side: debt collection, eviction, employment law issues. I didn’t expect as much as we have seen because I think you kind of count on the goodwill of people, including employers. When you have people suddenly just taken off shift, after they’ve said, “this type of situation is hard for me, is there somewhere else you can put me while I work through this trauma,” and then to suddenly just not be scheduled anymore. You know, things like that. I was surprised by that, but we actually saw it quite a bit.

Cunningham: How have things changed in the way that you're serving people? Or is the type of help people need now different than it was when the center first opened?

Pereira: The center was set up three weeks after the incident. The Family Assistance Center was open for, I believe it was 21 days. Then there was a weekend, and the resiliency center opened to kind of continue that work.

I would say in the beginning, there was a lot more, like, requests for spiritual care, and we don’t see that a lot now. I think that that was just the rawness of the trauma, and I think that it’s a natural thing for a lot of us to do, is to turn to that spiritual side of ourselves to find comfort and peace.

Connection to other survivors that have been through it that may be in a good place; that [request] has increased. And there’s a lot of strength in that connection, that shared experience. It’s one of the things that I consistently hear are the most effective.

Cunningham: Now that it’s been five years, how do you think Las Vegas has healed since Oct. 1, 2017?

Pereira: One of the things that I really like to look at is the evolution of Vegas as a result of this incident. Before the incident happened, we just were viewed and viewed ourselves as this transient community, and I don’t think that we really gelled the way a lot of communities do. But when October happened, I think you saw the real Vegas. You saw everyone come out and, you know, share their gifts, share their talents, rally around those that had been impacted by this. And, you know, you saw the generosity, you saw the heart of Vegas, right?

It’s been really interesting to watch that evolve because, as a community, we were traumatized. It was incredibly traumatizing. You turned on a TV, and then it was like the world kind of melted around you, and you just could not comprehend or fathom what had happened. Because this, you know, this was my community. This is where my children live and [where] I’m raising them. These are my people that this happened to. This is ours – it happened to us.

But there is a lot of healing that has taken place through Vegas. I think that it has changed us in a way that, you know, we’ll never go back. And, you know, I think on an individual basis when something like this happens, it changes that person. I also think it changes the community.

Tennille Pereira is also the chair of the 1 October Memorial Committee, which is working to build a permanent 1 October memorial.

Lucretia Cunningham is a former contributing reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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