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NEW BRUNSWICK – Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez today participated in a conference during which more than 250 New Jersey residents were trained in disaster response crisis counseling (DRCC). The specialty certification designates them as information referral and emotional support first-responders. The conference provided education credits for current counselors and counselors-in-training.
 
 
“The coordination of support, whether it’s food, shelter, transportation, entitlement benefits or counseling is essential to the response and recovery process,” said Commissioner Velez. “Whether it’s a plane crash or train derailment, hurricane or localized flooding, the DRCCs provide vital assistance to people whose lives are emotionally impacted.”

Currently, more than 600 crisis counselors statewide have become certified to provide the specialized volunteer service after participating in a credentialing program developed by the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) in coordination with the Mental Health Association in New Jersey.  The conference, hosted by DHS and supported by a grant from the Department of Health and Senior Services was held at Rutgers University.

“The emotional effects of natural and manmade disasters can be traumatic and long lasting,”said Lynn Kovich, Assistant Commissioner at DMHAS.“I want to thank the professionals here today for their selfless commitment to serve our state in this capacity.” 

Adrienne Fessler-Belli, who runs the DMHAS’ disaster and terrorism unit, explained the importance of a well-trained team of crisis counselors to support the DHS’ responsibility to coordinate shelter, feeding and mental health services during declared disasters.

“Like any professional credentialing, continuing education credits are crucial to remaining effective in our work,” said Fessler-Belli. “Through a recent grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in collaboration with  the  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,our DRCCs continue to provide support for Tropical Storm Irene survivors living in Somerset, Morris, Passaic, Hudson and Essex counties until September 1.”

A panel of representatives including the state Office of Emergency Management, Department of Health, Governor’s Office on Volunteerism, American Red Cross, Salvation Army and key partners of the state’s recovery and response system explained their individual roles. The panel discussion provided the attendees with a betterunderstanding of how the system depends on cooperation from all of its responders and the importance of preparedness and planning. 

Afternoon workshops were designed to specifically address leadership issues facing Mental Health Administrators and Team Leaders, to provide an informational session for potential DRCC's and to increase awareness about the access and functional needs of populations requiring services in post disaster settings for practicing DRCC's.

During the immediate aftermath of Irene, Project Recover provided 2,605 individual counseling contacts, 1,272 group contacts, 1,669 telephone contacts, 2,165 email contacts and supportive and psycho-educational services to more than 4,300 individuals.

More information about Project Recover can be found on the DHS website: http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/dmhs/disaster/ or by contacting the HELPLINE number at (877) 294-HELP (4357) and the TTY number is (877) 294-4356

 
 
 
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