Tag Archive for: Lori Powell

By Lori Powell, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

As I prepared for my school day on August 10, 2022, the sun was shining and the temperature was warm. I was excited to greet students with the last names starting with K-Z at Vogel Elementary School in Evansville, IN. It felt like a normal first day of school, but it would turn out to be anything but normal. That afternoon we suddenly heard a loud boom, which caused the entire school building to shake.

Some of the staff thought the sound was a car crash or a tree falling. I could see smoke coming from the west but did not know the location. After a short time, the scary noise was determined to be a house explosion in the 1000 block of Weinbach Avenue in Evansville. This location is only a few blocks from Vogel Elementary School. Sadly, three people did not survive the tragedy.

I immediately experienced multiple thoughts and feelings; however, I knew that my primary focus was to help the Vogel students, parents, and staff feel safe by being there to answer their questions and concerns.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event.” These situations can include natural disasters, death, abuse, or accidents. Student, parent, and staff reactions to the explosion last year ranged from shock to anxiety, sadness, and fear. Many people cried, and several parents picked up their children from school early to comfort them and ensure their safety.

I personally felt terrified and worried, because my mother lives very close to the house that exploded. My brain was stuck in these two emotions for the remainder of the day. I knew what I was experiencing was trauma, but at the time I was only functioning moment by moment.

When I drive on Weinbach or Hercules Avenue, I can still see the devastation from the explosion. My mother’s house still needs a few repairs, but it is mostly completed. The good news is that she was able to stay in her home.

Even though time has moved forward and we are now in a new school year, the explosion continues to affect people’s lives. Many of the students at Vogel are still processing feelings related to this traumatic event. When these difficult experiences happen, it is very important to utilize positive coping skills, even if time has passed since the traumatic event.

Good ways to cope with trauma include talking about your feelings, continuing healthy routines and behaviors, and seeking out professional mental health resources and care if needed. Some positive coping skills that can be useful are deep breathing, positive self-talk, eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting the correct amount of sleep.

If you feel like your child has experienced unresolved issues related to trauma, you can seek out a Youth First Social Worker at their school or contact your primary care physician to determine the best way to address their needs. 

By Lori Powell, LCSW – March 9, 2022 –

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I always had good intentions about exercising, but I just could never find the time to select the program that would work best for me. I used excuses such as, “I’m too tired!” or, “I don’t have enough time to exercise.”

Only 5 percent of adults residing in the United States exercise 30 minutes per day, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When the world shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, I was working from home and feeling multiple emotions about all the changes that were happening in the world. As a social worker, I knew that I needed to identify and begin using positive coping skills to stay mentally and physically healthy.

First, I began thinking about exercise options. There are so many different types of physical exercise: walking, running, aerobics, YOGA, playing a sport, dancing, swimming, biking, gardening, or even cleaning! One day, I decided to pull out an aerobic exercise program that I had used in the past. I decided to attempt the exercises again by setting a goal to exercise for one week using this program.  

After the first day I was exhausted. My muscles were sore and I could not keep up with the trainer, but I reminded myself that this is a positive way to help myself be healthier, both physically and mentally. I knew that exercise would boost my self-confidence, help me relax, and decrease my high stress levels due to the pandemic.  

The instructor used humor, which made the exercises more enjoyable. Finding a program that I enjoyed made it easier for me to make the commitment to exercise regularly.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise on a weekly basis for most healthy adults. According to the American Heart Association, “Physical exercise is linked to better sleep, memory, and cognitive ability and results in less risk of weight gain, chronic disease, dementia, and depression.  Exercise is one of the best things that you can do for your health and wellbeing.” 

If you determine exercise is the positive coping skill that works best for you, I recommend that you select an exercise that you enjoy, set a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goal, and give yourself a positive reward when you achieve each goal. For example, if you enjoy walking, set an achievable goal of walking for 30 minutes three times weekly for four weeks. 

Schedule this goal on your calendar to remind yourself to keep working towards it. Share your fitness goals with friends or family members who will encourage you. When you reach your goals, reward yourself with something special. Continue to set SMART goals to help maintain your physical activities in the future, and reap the mental and physical benefits associated with using exercise as a coping skill.

By Lori Powell, LCSW – September 1, 2021 –

Not many people can say they’ve read a story to a cat. Surprisingly, our furry feline friends can prove to be avid listeners, like my cat Jazzy! Jazzy and I have been registered through Pet Partners as an Animal Assisted Therapy Team since 2018. The Paws and Tales Program allows children to read books to cats, which is an awesome way to encourage children to read even just one page.

Prior to the pandemic, Jazzy and I would spend time at two libraries in Evansville to promote the importance of childhood literacy. When libraries began to re-open after pandemic closures, I was contacted about Jazzy returning to the libraries to continue these programs. My first thought was, “Of course we want to return!” But then I thought, “Is this really safe?”

At that time, I knew that I had to make an informed decision about whether or not we should continue to participate in this program. I began by reviewing information provided from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Although Jazzy is a healthy cat, I wanted to ensure both Jazzy’s and the program participants’ safety.

According to the CDC, there is currently no evidence of animals spreading COVID-19 to people, but there have been some reported cases of people spreading the virus to animals who have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

There are multiple ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to animals, including COVID-19 vaccinations for pet owners, staying 6 feet away from other people, avoiding places where someone has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or where social distancing cannot be maintained, asking individuals who may be sick to wear a mask when around the animal, and cleaning the animal’s harnesses and supplies on a regular basis.

Since it has been longer than a year since Jazzy and I were able to participate in the Paws for Tales Program, I also reviewed Pet Partners’ safety precautions, which require all individuals to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after petting the animal. 

With this information, I made the decision to take Jazzy for her first library appearance since March of 2020. At first she wanted to explore, but she was easily able to refocus once she remembered that this is an opportunity to earn treats and be petted.

There were only a few participants, which was ideal for reintroducing Jazzy to the library environment. The children were able to read to Jazzy, give her a treat, pet her, and brush her. The children seemed to have a wonderful time interacting with Jazzy and her return proved to be a great success!

Jazzy loves listening to children and adults read to her. Remember, Jazzy is always willing to listen regardless of the storyteller’s reading ability! Jazzy and I are scheduled to return to Red Bank Library in Evansville, IN on Thursday, September 16th from 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm CST. The plan is to begin offering this program monthly.

If you’re looking for a way to encourage your child to read aloud, bring them out to read to Jazzy!

By Lori Powell, LCSW – March 31, 2021 –

In 1980 I was a five-year-old attending kindergarten in Evansville, Indiana. It was the year of the infamously destructive June 8th storm that brought hurricane force winds to my hometown, and it was the first time I remember having to cope with the world around me changing.

I really didn’t understand the dangerous nature of the storm at the time, but I remember all teachers and students were asked to go to the cafeteria, which was located at the lowest level of the school. We were supposed to sit under the tables in the tornado position. However, I remember sitting with my friend giggling and not following directions very well, because I did not understand the seriousness of the situation. 

The school busses were not able to take us home, so my father picked me up that day.  There was no electricity in my house for a few days. Restaurants without gas appliances couldn’t reopen due to the lack of electricity. Our favorite restaurant was closed.

My grandmother did not have electricity for over seven days in her area. I knew that I had shelter, water, food, and could depend on my parents for safety and reassurance. I swung on the swing set outside of my home, rode my bike, and played cards and board games with my family members. The lack of power, damage, and destruction caused by the storm left me largely untouched and unburdened. 

Since then I have lived through multiple storms and have lost my electricity for only a short amount of time. The Covid-19 pandemic is the first time in my life that schools and businesses have closed their doors for such an extended amount of time.  Even during most snowstorms we were still able to go to the mall when school was cancelled.  

After the pandemic lockdown, I went to the grocery store with my husband for the first time in months. The shelves were stocked minimally, but we were able to obtain all of our necessities. As I stood in the grocery aisle, I thought about the large number of people shopping in the store and realized how different this crisis felt than the one I experienced as a child. I wondered how people who were already experiencing anxiety were getting through the stress and uncertainty of a global pandemic.  

Although the world has changed drastically as the pandemic drags on, it is important to find ways to remind yourself that things will get better. Many people have found that using deep breathing techniques, positive self-talk, and positive visual imagery to stay calm can help mitigate overwhelming thoughts and worries. Exercise and getting outdoors are also very helpful in relieving anxiety.

Breathing in and out slowly, reminding yourself that this situation is only temporary, and taking extra time to relax can be helpful for lightening the burden we’ve all carried throughout this last year.

We also need to remember that there are aspects of life that we do not have control over and focus on what we are able to control, such as our attitudes and our behaviors. For example, I can choose to have a great day, stay positive, and do my best to help others do the same.

By Lori Powell, LCSW – Aug. 27, 2019

When I first began working as a Youth First Social Worker at an elementary school in 2017, I noticed the children enjoyed being welcomed by a stuffed animal cat in the mornings to promote a great start to their day. I have always kept various stuffed animals in my office to encourage kids and families to feel more comfortable talking to me.  

Over the years, I have purchased stuffed animals that resemble wild and domestic cats. However, the favorite cat of the majority of the children and adults at school is a big stuffed tiger.

At times I have even been asked by students if I would allow the stuffed animal tiger to visit their classroom for the entire day.  As a result, I am not surprised by the following statement from Rose M. Barlow of the Department of Psychology at Boise State University in Idaho:  “Animals, (real or toys) can help children and adults to experience and express emotions, a feeling of unconditional support, and grounding.” 

My real pet cat Jazzy and I became registered as an animal-assisted therapy team through Pet Partners in 2018.  According to Pet Partners, there are only 180 registered cat-assisted therapy teams in the US. 

My thoughts were that Jazzy could possibly reduce anxiety and anger issues that some of the students were experiencing at the time.  First, I contacted the parents of the children that I felt would benefit from this form of intervention and gained their approval to use this technique. 

I was able to bring Jazzy to school on two occasions. The students whose parents approved the animal-assisted therapy were really excited about visiting with Jazzy and were able to discuss some difficult experiences that they had incurred throughout their lives.  

One of the rules of being a registered assisted therapy team through Pet Partners is that the animal has to be bathed prior to each visit. By making sure that the animal has been cleaned, the allergens could be reduced and not cause severe allergic reactions to the animal’s presence. Unfortunately, however, the decision was made to no longer allow Jazzy in the school setting due to individual allergy issues.

Currently, Jazzy and I attend the Paws and Tales program at Red Bank Library in Evansville every other Thursday from 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm. This program allows children to read books to Jazzy.

The families and the staff at Red Bank Library enjoy visiting with Jazzy. The children who attend the program are motivated to read a book as a way to spend time with Jazzy, who also enjoys being brushed, petted, and given treats.

Even though there are many different people who visit with Jazzy on a regular basis, she has been able to completely bond with three individuals since the Paws and Tales program was started. Jazzy shows this high comfort level by purring very loudly for these individuals.

Jazzy loves to listen to children and adults read to her during the Paws and Tales Program. She is always willing to listen regardless of the individual’s reading ability!

By Lori Powell, LCSW – September 25, 2018 –

Throughout my life I have had the opportunity to meet people who have experienced multiple traumatic challenges in their lives. Some have been able to successfully work through their complicated issues, but others seem to have more difficulty managing their thoughts and emotions related to any change or significant event.

The difference is that some people have not fully developed their ability to be resilient. According to the American Psychological Association, the ability to be resilient is actually ordinary, not extraordinary.

The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines resiliency as “the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune.”

The American Psychological Association reports that research shows people who exhibit resiliency have developed supportive and caring relationships with friends and family, make plans they are able to complete, are confident in their strengths and abilities, manage their intense emotions and reactions to extreme events, communicate effectively, and work toward solving their problems appropriately.

The American Psychological Association also identifies 10 techniques that can enhance one’s ability to become more resilient:

1. Develop truly trusting, caring, and supportive relationships with friends, co-workers and family members. These relationships can be developed by spending more time with the significant people in your life.
2. Identify small positive changes in emotional distress. For example, acknowledge “I feel happier today than I felt yesterday.” Journaling can help identify changes in emotional state on a day-to-day basis.
3. Change is a continuous process throughout our lives. A person might not be able to change a situation but can work toward solving smaller problems related to the situation.
4. Set smaller attainable goals to identify each success. An example might be, “I woke up this morning and ate my breakfast.” In some cases these are definitely achievements that can be celebrated.
5. Admit that the problem exists and work toward fixing the issue. When a person denies that he or she has experienced a difficult situation they are avoiding healing, which makes it more difficult to recover.
6. Identify self-growth by acknowledging successes and the goals that have been achieved. When an individual solves one problem they might feel more confident to solve others.
7. Realize that you are able to resolve problematic situations. This realization is created when each additional problem is solved.
8. Do not exaggerate problems associated with the incident. When a person views the problem realistically they are able to handle it more effectively.
9. Stay positive by focusing on a better and brighter future.
10.Identify your emotions and your needs, which includes being able to relax and participate in activities that are enjoyable, such as spending time with family and friends.

Please remember that everyone is able to develop their ability to become more resilient. With determination, confidence, support, and encouragement, any issue can be managed and resolved effectively.

By Lori Powell, LCSW, Courier & Press, September 26, 2017 –

I have always loved animals, especially cats.  Throughout my professional life I have noticed that sharing photos of my cats and keeping small stuffed animals in my office has helped initiate and continue conversations with children and adults, helping me build trusting relationships.

As a result, when I began my employment at Vogel Elementary School as a Youth First Social Worker, I began to carry a stuffed animal with me to help children transition into school in the mornings.  If I’m not at the door when children enter the area, some will ask, “Where is the lady with the cat?”

Some children smile and ask to pet the stuffed animal I’m carrying with me, which is usually a cat of various colors.  As a result, I am not surprised by the following statement from Rose M. Barlow, of the Department of Psychology at Boise State University in Idaho: “Animals, (real or toys,) can help children and adults to experience and express emotions, a feeling of unconditional support, and grounding.”

According to the Academy of Anxiety and Depression, anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 children.  Rose Barlow also states that animals can help reduce anxiety, stress, and sadness that adults or children might be experiencing.  There are many people that need help meeting their emotional needs to feel safe, loved, and appreciated.

I’ve listed five essential needs that pets can provide to adults and children:

  • A constant companionship can be formed that teaches the individual how to provide unconditional love and affection appropriately.
  • A structured schedule for waking up in the mornings, bedtimes, and meal times can be developed.
  • A positive coping skill can be developed, because it is very difficult to play with a dog or cat without smiling or laughing.
  • Self-esteem can be increased by allowing the child to feel comfortable in building friendships.
  • Physical comfort can be obtained by touching, holding, and petting your animal.

When choosing a pet, please make sure they are friendly and want the extra attention a child will give.  Otherwise, the essential needs of the individual and the pet will not be met. Also, it’s important to be thoughtful about the care and responsibility that any animal requires, including obtaining appropriate vaccinations for all pets in the home.

If you are unable to afford care for the animal and must return it to the original owner, this could create additional trauma for children and adults who have become attached to their new pet.  But don’t give up on the possibility of animal-assisted therapy.  There is always the option to use toy stuffed animals or visit the animals at the zoo to help children and adults reduce or alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, and sadness.