There was little calm after F-3 tornados tore through Washington County on April 27 and 28. County officials quickly realized that they would need to set-up a volunteer reception center to handle the influx of people wanting to help neighbors and friends, and to manage items donated by individuals and businesses.
Kristina K. Morris, volunteer coordinator for the Southwest Virginia Medical Reserve Corps, was tapped to head up this operation, which was being housed at the King Center on the campus of Emory & Henry College.
Over the course of the next week, Morris provided day-to-day management of the center and its more than two dozen volunteers. Morris and her team helped usher more than 1,000 volunteers who completed registration and safety training to work assignments throughout the county.
Morris also reached out to United Way of Russell and Washington counties to be on hand to accept monetary donations, as well as goods and services from citizens and corporate sponsors who seemed to be coming in by the truck load. Over those first few days, she answered a staggering number of questions and solved an even larger number of small problems and crises that helped keep the recovery process moving forward.
In the middle of the response, Morris was set to graduate from Emory & Henry College as a member of the inaugural cohort for the master’s degree in community and organizational leadership. As she herself would explain, it didn’t take long for her newly earned degree to pay off.
“Interesting enough, one of the last courses in MCOL was on communication and, specifically, crisis communication,” Morris said. “Time and again, MCOL discussed the importance of working within your community and accessing the strengths of the community.”
The strong horizontal network that Kristina had at her disposal as a result of this program was utilized on a daily basis. She called on fellow cohort members to assist her in the management of the activities at the King Center. She reached out to individuals and organizations that had made presentations in class to utilize their expertise, and each day started with a strategic planning meeting to determine what the objectives were for that particular day and how she could help those around her meet those objectives.
“Through the MCOL program I learned the importance of asking for help when you need it. Personally, asking for help is not easy for me. During that first week in the Volunteer Reception Center, it was necessary to ask for help from fellow cohort members, partners, volunteers, the business community and the emergency response community. Very few times was that help not made available.”
The MCOL program is designed for working adults like Morris, professionals and community members who want to build their leadership skills in a practice-based setting. Students can often integrate their class work with projects they are doing in their jobs and communities.
Students who want to pursue a master of arts in community and organizational leadership must complete 36 credit hours over a 21-month course of study. Classes meet one night per week and one weekend a month at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
Required courses for all students include organizational leadership, budgeting, organizational learning, human resources leadership, ethical issues, strategic planning, public policy, and the capstone. Students can choose one of two learning tracks: non-profit leadership or healthcare policy and advocacy.