We’ve seen many images of the impact of Hurricane Katrina over the last six months: photographs of the hordes displaced from their New Orleans homes, video footage of the volunteers rebuilding, house by house.
But Cindy Dahlstrom McNitt sees another side of the damage. As a licensed clinical social worker from the small town of Slidell, La. – which sustained major damages, falling within the eye of the storm – she witnesses the emotional effects of the flooding on a daily basis.
“Since everyone here is experiencing some degree of stress, my clinical work is not confined to the office,” said McNitt, who graduated from UMBC in 1981 with a degree in psychology.
“More people are seeking help (wisely), but are frustrated by the limited help available to them,” due to the destruction of health providers’ offices, records – even suicides by practitioners, she said. “This only adds to the general sense of hopelessness that takes over at times.”
McNitt got her start in social work at UMBC. A native of Illinois, she originally chose UMBC because of the strong psychology program and to be close to her high school sweetheart, Tom, who was attending the Naval Academy at the time.
“While there, I took a social work class that really resonated with me,” she said. After college, she and Tom married and she earned her master’s in social work from the University of Illinois. McNitt spent several happy years working in the schools of Chicago’s suburbs while raising their first three children.
In 1995, just after the birth of her fourth child, the Navy transferred the family to New Orleans. McNitt quickly set up her private practice in the town of Slidell, which lost forty percent of its housing to Katrina, she said.
Despite the obvious troubles of the citizens of Slidell, McNitt stays positive in hopes she might help her neighbors. Since her home made it through the storm relatively unscathed, her family has opened the doors to a number of guests, including her older daughter’s family and a local contractor. McNitt’s office was “torpedoed,” however, so she has been working from home and taking to the streets to talk clients through their problems.
In addition to the issues that naturally arise from close-quartered living, loss of jobs and homes, and general disarray, McNitt has dealt with everything from suicides to peoples’ worries about “the next hurricane” to fears of falling branches.
“We’re all trying to assimilate something known locally as the ‘New Normal.’ This is one of the biggest challenges in this huge region of destruction and lost, but evidence of hope, too,” she said. “We’re not ‘all better’ yet, but with help, we can get there. This can be a pretty city again…maybe a new ‘New Normal!’”
– Jenny O’Grady
Originally published April 2006