Dr. Rebecca Thomley receives the MPA Community Involvement award

Dr. Rebecca Thomley, CEO of Orion Associates received a “Community Involvement Award” from the Minnesota Psychological Association, on April 25, 2008, in recognition of her work in founding and leading the River of Hope project and for her efforts in the creation of the Headwaters Relief Organization.

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Dr. Rebecca Thomley receives the MPA Community Involvement Award

The Minnesota Psychological Association invites members to nominate individuals and/or organizations with psychologist volunteers, who have demonstrated significant contribution to the community through volunteer activity.  The enhancement of community is very important, and this award is given in the spirit of recognizing and promoting the volunteer service of psychologists to improve their community.  The individual award is given to a Minnesota Psychological Association member who has been involved in a single noteworthy project, or a series of projects.

Rebecca Hage Thomley receiving the “Community Involvement Award” at the Minnesota Psychological Association Convention.

The following is the text from the nomination letter, submitted by Cheryl Vennerstrom, Orion Associates’ Chief Operating Officer, to the Minnesota Psychological Association, in consideration for the Community Involvement Award:

Selflessly helping others is a huge part of Rebecca Thomley’s identity and mission.  She was brought up to believe that it is privilege to volunteer, to be of assistance.
From experience, she has the ability to gently enter into the lives of others offering acceptance and respect as well as help.  At the same time, she employs fierce optimism and an indomitable approach to creating answers to unmet community needs.

Dr. Thomley has been a member of the Red Cross Stress Team since 1982. In addition to providing mental health support to victims, families and first
responders in response to local fires, floods and other disasters, she
serves on the national rapid response team — ready to go to a disaster
site within four hours notification.  She provided mental health
relief for the children’s hotline related to the Oklahoma City bombing
in 1995 and served in Minnesota’s operations center as individuals from
everywhere coped with stress and fear after the terrorist attack on the
World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  She has served in
leadership roles including co-chairing the local Stress Team (at the
time of the 9/11 tragedy) and chairing the Debriefing Committee. 

As a Red Cross stress team volunteer, she was one of the first people to
enter the Ninth Ward of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The need she experienced there was both so overwhelming and devastating, she returned home to Minnesota vowing to continue to help the people of the Ninth Ward.  With passion and generosity she inspired her employees, friends, and family to volunteer for a relief trip, which the group named, A River of Hope.  What began as a
one-time relief effort, evolved into an ongoing company and community-wide commitment.  Through sheer determination and unyielding optimism she convinced construction workers, plumbers, electricians, roofers and other community members to join her circle of colleagues and friends in the effort. In just two years and 12 trips, the 400 volunteers she mobilized have gutted 50 homes, completed the
re-building of five homes for elderly individuals, and re-built six community structures including a church, a daycare center, a domestic abuse center, a mental health resource center and two homes to serve elderly individuals.  River of Hope donations and fund-raising efforts have made it possible to fill five semi-trucks and numerous trailers with building materials and other supplies.


2008-ciw-1Seeing the need for emotional as well as physical relief, Thomley established
the first and only walk-in mental health resource center in the Upper Ninth Ward.  The resource center has served people suffering from stress and trauma as well as those who have been unable to access New
Orleans’ scarce mental health services since Hurricane Katrina.

Thomley responded again when floods hit Southern Minnesota last summer; in 24
hours she had a veteran team from A River of Hope on the road to the communities that were hardest hit by the floods.  The River of
Hope volunteers have plans to help with re-building in Southeastern Minnesota in upcoming months.  A River of Hope has now become just one project of a new non-profit, Headwaters, LLC, which she created with the goal of nimbly responding to disasters with the practical and emotional support victims need when the first responders leave.

Headwaters, LLC and A River of Hope not only represent Thomley’s compassion, but also her effort to bring growth opportunities to individuals willing to
trade good wishes for hard work when disaster strikes.  Yet it’s more than just the hard work that she teaches and models. It’s the power of presence.  She says it this way, “Those who do this work know that for someone to let you into their life at their darkest moment is a gift of the soul.  It is in these intimate and dark moments that our humanness allows that soul connection no matter who we are or where we have come from.  At times, the most valuable thing we can do is to sit by someone’s side as another human being simply and quietly being present with them and their anguish, fear, and vulnerability.” 

Thomley is not only convincing as an advocate for those in need, she believes strongly in the power of volunteering to change the lives of the volunteers.  She is eloquent about the impact working in New Orleans’ poorest and predominantly black neighborhood has had on the mostly white middle class volunteers’
understanding of race and poverty in America.  And, she is thrilled at the diverse community involvement and volunteer activity that is bubbling up through the staff, from a team walking the Breast Cancer 3-day, to a group raising money for the Special Olympics by “taking the polar plunge”, to a group working to raise awareness and action in response to the Darfur genocide and more. Because of the
volunteerism in which she’s engaged the company, her employees have become agents committed to change.

It’s Rebecca Thomley’s vision and compassion, her mix of practical help and the wisdom to first sit still and listen, and her leadership in inspiring a new wave of
volunteers that makes Thomley a volunteer that deserves recognition for changing the community for the better.