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Transforming Trauma Into Healing, One Story at a Time

Image by Dennis Diatel/Shutterstock

In 2019, Megan Bull was a recent college graduate and new transplant to San Francisco when she decided to visit the nearby Gilroy Garlic Festival. What should have been a happy day turned dark when Bull heard gunshots. That afternoon, a mass shooter at the festival killed three people and wounded 17 others. “Me and my boyfriend ended up having to run for our lives,” Bull recalls. She wasn’t physically injured, but she soon developed PTSD.

Then, less than a year later, Bull was the victim of a hit-and-run accident that left her in need of major spinal surgery. The back-to-back traumas were overwhelming. “I really struggled with mental health,” she says. “I struggled being a 24-year-old having experienced two very traumatic events.”

There were some resources available for survivors of the garlic festival shooting. But they weren’t easily accessible to Bull. She lived in San Francisco, but all of the events were being held in Gilroy itself, a two-hour drive away. “With trying to work a full-time job and trying to reintegrate back into my normal life, it wasn’t feasible for me,” Bull says.

That was when she decided to start the Reclaim Foundation, a virtual platform that aims to support people who have experienced trauma, as well as their loved ones, one personal story at a time. The organization is deliberately vague in its definition of the word trauma so that any and all survivors — from survivors of mass shootings, like Bull, to people undergoing cancer treatment — feel welcome.

The foundation’s three-pronged approach includes creating online communities in which survivors can share their stories; raising awareness about trauma and its aftereffects; and providing resources to survivors, like information about how to find therapists, connections to cancer survivor groups, and even information about how to identify the best charities to donate to. The foundation also hosts virtual events, including workshops about self-care and exercise groups. “People with PTSD tend to associate everything with that flight reaction, and [exercise] sometimes helps to reframe that,” Bull says.

Currently, Bull heads up Reclaim Foundation in a volunteer capacity, in addition to her full-time job in pharmaceutical research. In fact, Reclaim Foundation is entirely staffed by volunteers. But even with a small team, it has already reached around 180 individuals through events alone. (Its third annual Poppy Gala fundraiser, to be held in Davis, Calif., is set for Sept. 9, 2023.)

The mission is resonating with other survivors. Bull was named the 2022 Remarkable Woman of the Year by KRON4, a San Francisco TV news station, and she’s seen an influx of messages from fellow survivors since that award aired. “People [are] saying, ‘This is the first time I felt seen from a story on the news,’” she says. “Just knowing that people are relating to it and now know where to get help – that’s the biggest heartwarming thing for me.” She adds, “For me as a survivor, hearing other people be able to relate, it’s healing me by healing others.”

Bull envisions the Reclaim Foundation will one day become a household name, so that when a trauma occurs, people can immediately go online and get resources to help.

She also hopes to continue to raise awareness about the realities of living with trauma. “People expect trauma to go away, that once the media cycle stops airing that specific event, or people stop asking how you’re doing, that you’re fine and you’ve moved on. But trauma, unfortunately, stays with you. I want people to realize that it’s a journey and something that you have to overcome and learn to live with pretty much forever, but it isn’t your entire story.”

To other women hoping to make change in their communities, she says, “Just get started. After the shooting in 2019, I had already come up with the idea of Reclaim Foundation, but my own vulnerability and fear of the unknown [stopped me]. It was all the fears of, I don’t know what I’m doing, maybe I shouldn't be the one to do it. But having that second life-altering event at 24, I was, you know, there’s never going to be a good time to do it.” She did all the research about starting a nonprofit from her recovery bed. She couldn’t walk yet, so she sent her boyfriend to the mailbox with the forms.

“Just get started,” she says. “You will be able to figure it out as you go.”

Willa Hart is a freelance writer.

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