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Superstorm Trauma Counseling Continues with Federal Grant

Strung out since Sandy? Does the damage inside you rival the damage around you? Think there’s nowhere to turn? A counseling initiative that began right after the Superstorm continues through February 2014, fueled by an influx of federal aid.

Aerial view of Hurricane Sandy damage along the Jersey Shore
Governor’s Office, Tim Larsen)

The Hope and Healing Program enables four behavioral-health organizations to field more than 150 crisis counselors, and to send them directly to people who need them – not holed up in offices waiting for walk-ins.

New Jersey Hope and Healing developed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state Department of Human Services in the immediate aftermath and the Presidential emergency declaration.

Counselors have scoured the impacted areas since then, assessing needs and providing informal help. FEMA’s $11,500,000 grant now lets it continue. Four behavioral health organizations are taking part.

The agencies, says Disaster and Terrorism Branch Director Adrienne Fessler-Belli, are Barnabas Institute for Prevention, Family Services Association of Atlantic County, and the Mental Health Associations of New Jersey and Newark.

Adrienne says the professionals hired specifically for the program have been in affected communities since the start. “They’ve been in shelters, they went into the Disaster Recovery Centers, they go to Town Halls, they canvas the neighborhoods…anyplace where people in the community will gather.”

The FEMA model is not the traditional clinical one that might be expected. “It’s neighbor helping neighbor,” says Adrienne, going “to fairs, to meetings. They offer support groups.” If a counselor determines that deeper clinical services are needed, they provide the links to the sources.

And if your situation isn’t something you want to share in a group, there is an anonymous help line: 877-294-4357, or TTY 877-294-4356.

Placing the storm in historical perspective, Adrienne explains that the model was organized in November and December under FEMA’s Immediate Services grant. The new funding applies to the second phase now beginning. However, the magnitude of the destruction prompted federal staffers to alter their guidelines.

“Typically, the Immediate Services grant under the FEMA model is 60 days,” she relates, for a needs assessment, “and providers go on for another nine months. Due to the magnitude of this disaster, the Immediate Services grant was six months.”

The problem for many storm survivors, she continues, is that they often don’t realize that they’d benefit from consultation. “When the recovery is prolonged…there is more of a need for support and for clinical services,” says Adrienne. “People are very busy in the very beginning of these kinds of disasters, doing what needs to be done to their houses, to get back into some kind of routine. And for some, that may not be possible.”

“One of the ways that people recover…and return to resiliency…is that people go back to their normal routine schedules. For many, given the magnitude of this disaster, that’s not possible. That’s how this differs from other disasters.”

So, whether the need is simply for a knowledgeable or sympathetic ear, or a higher level of psychological service since Sandy, the program continues. “No one has to do this alone,” says Adrienne.

There’s a wealth of information about in a portal at the Mental Health Assocation of New Jersey web page. See it here.

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