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Young Sandy survivors share optimism with Oklahoma peers
BRICK TOWNSHIP –Christie Administration officials this week joined young Superstorm Sandy survivors during a weekly support group facilitated by Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention Crisis Counselors through the New Jersey Hope and Healing project. They were designing cards and messages of hope for their peers who survived the Oklahoma tornadoes.Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Jennifer Velez and Department of Children and Families (DCF) Commissioner Allison Blake toured the Visitation Relief Center in Brick Township, where at least a dozen children - some of whom were rescued from their flooded homes by boat - have been getting crisis counseling by Hope and Healing staff after Superstorm Sandy devastated portions of the state.
“I think it’s incredible that, in spite of their own losses, these children are sharing stories of hope and support with their peers from across the country going through a similar disaster,” said Commissioner Velez. “Disasters like Sandy can damage more than just property; people can lose their spirit. That’s why restoring survivors’ emotional and psychological balance is a fundamental factor in rebuilding New Jersey.”
The participating children – ages 5 through teens – meet on Wednesday evenings at the center to talk with other youth and Barnabas Health crisis counselors about the effects the storm has had on their emotions, moods and thoughts. But today, the youth group was focusing on lessening the despair of others also devastated by Mother Nature, far away from Sandy’s path, but left with the same type of emotional aftermath they have endured.
“It is heartwarming to see the resiliency of children affected by Superstorm Sandy as they reach out to Oklahomans. I believe both groups of children – in New Jersey and Oklahoma – will benefit from this thoughtful and generous gesture,” said Commissioner Blake.
Commissioners Velez and Blake credited the dedication of counselors from the New Jersey Hope and Healing Program - an initiative of DHS’ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services in partnership with the Mental Health Association of New Jersey, Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Family Services in Atlantic County and Family Services Bureau in Newark - as a vital part of the state’s recovery.

Crisis counselors have been canvassing the state since Sandy, meeting with survivors in their neighborhoods, town halls, churches, and anywhere else where people need help to deal with the damage that goes beyond bricks and mortar. To date, an estimated 189,000 residents have been provided information or counseling by Hope and Healing staff.

In Ocean County, Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention Crisis Counselors have been assisting in providing support to individuals impacted by the storm. Since November 2012, a team of more than 20 specially-trained Barnabas Health counselors have facilitated encounters with more than 19,000 Ocean County residents. In April 2013, they launched the children’s support group at the Visitation Relief Center.

Commissioner Velez thanked Christie Winters, who heads the Visitation Relief Center (VCR), for hosting the special youth counseling group each week. Nearly 4,000 families have received a variety of services ¬- ranging from food, relocation and rebuilding assistance provided by a score of private funders, businesses and volunteers – since VCR opened after the storm.

The Visitation Relief Center is located at 721 Mantoloking Avenue, in the former Mantoloking Marketplace, where it relocated in February when space next door at the Church of the Visitation became too small for the increasing need for services.

Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention Hope and Healing counselors have been providing emotional support to adults who came to the center for other services, but it soon became clear that a special session for children was needed.

The idea to comfort the Oklahoma survivors came during one of the weekly two-hour sessions from an 18-year-old storm victim who volunteers with the group.

“Hope and Healing has been phenomenal. We get 5 to 50 families through here every day, and it’s so helpful to have the counselors right here when the families break down,” Winters said. “We were hearing about children wetting their bed, crying, not being able to focus on school work, so we pushed for a youth group, and their progress here has been wonderful.”

“This whole effort is therapeutic for them. Their empathy shows they are progressing and moving forward,” said Angela Lewis. She and Abigail Priece are the two Hope and Healing counselors from Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention who have been meeting with the children.

“I am so proud of the work our counselors are doing to help heal our neighbors in Ocean County,” said Carol Benevy, MSW, New Jersey Hope and Healing Project Lead, Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention. “This program has become a vital resource to Ocean County and is integral in the long-term recovery of our communities.”

Governor Chris Christie announced last month that New Jersey Hope and Healing has been awarded $11 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to continue the program.
Research shows that anxiety and depression can increase as people try to recover from a disaster and the return to regular routine is delayed. Symptoms can include: anxiety, a feeling of hopelessness, depression, sadness, inability to concentrate, insomnia, isolation and grief or they may experience nightmares, flashbacks, new or worsening health problems, according to Adrienne Fessler-Belli, director of the Disaster and Terrorism Branch in DMHAS, which spearheaded Hope and Healing. For more information about New Jersey Hope and Healing, call 1-888-294-HELP (4357), TTY: 1-888-294-4356.

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