KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Organizations continue to rally around the Austin-East community after students, teachers, parents and caretakers experienced months of trauma.
The East Knoxville community faced tragedy after tragedy this year after losing many teenagers to gun violence, and a student was shot by police inside of Austin East Magnet High School.
"I think this is the worst I can recall it ever being," said therapist and Austin-East graduate Phillip Tucker.
He said the community needed more mental health resources to support people recovering from the trauma, and so he decided to step up and take action. He said he always intended to return to the East Knoxville community and support it.
With help from the Change Center and Shora Foundation, Tucker is leading group counseling over the next month for Austin-East students, parents, youth providers and teachers. The sessions will be held until June 24 and are free for participants, according to organizers.
"Now is the perfect time to check in and make sure our mental health is being addressed while things are a little slower," he said.
His work with students focuses on understanding thoughts, feelings and coping skills. He said he is trying to provide a place where people can process all the struggles and strife they have had to face.
For adults, their focus lies on processing their own feelings before trying to help others.
"It's like they say on the plane, 'put your own mask on first before you try to help someone else,'" said Tucker. "People have had 'ah-ha' moments realizing they've been under more pressure than they realize."
Tucker said trauma can become normalized, so it's important for people to reach out even if they think it's not necessary. Otherwise, stress can continue building without people realizing it.
"People in this community are incredibly resilient," he said. "Sometimes that resilience can be a hindrance for reaching out for support."
Even if it's just coming to listen, he said the opportunity to hear other's perspectives can be eye-opening.
The free counseling sessions are offered at the Change Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the month. Tucker said you should register beforehand by emailing email@example.com or calling 865-951-1567.