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Clinical Behavioral Health Services program is operational
SEASIDE HEIGHTS– Children living in sections of the state hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy have been learning skills to cope with the storm’s emotional aftermath as part of the Sandy Wave Riders Children’s Program, an outgrowth of the New Jersey Hope and Healing Initiative, which concludes its program on Friday. Funded through an $11 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that expires on February 14, Hope and Healing has been administered through the Disaster and Terrorism Branch (DTB) of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the Department of Human Services (DHS) in partnership with the Mental Health Association of NJ (MHANJ), Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Family Services Association in Atlantic County and Family Services Bureau of Newark.
For 15 months, approximately 200 Hope and Healing counselors have been canvassing the streets of neighborhoods hardest hit by the Superstorm, meeting with residents on their streets, in their town halls, churches, restaurants and stores, and conducting support groups wherever they are requested.
“Research shows there is no specific deadline for emotional recovery after a disaster of this magnitude. Not everyone recovers at the same pace, and some people are more affected than others,” said DHS Commissioner Jennifer Velez. “It’s true that children are resilient, but this program helped provide stability for them and their families as they rebuilt their homes and their lives.”

Sandy Wave Riders was a six-session, special psycho-educational curriculum developed by MHANJ with professionally trained counselors. It allowed families to learn important life lessons and skills such as facing fears, celebrating success, the importance of support systems, and lessons of hope.  The program was divided into different age groups; 5-6 years, 7-9 years, 10-13 years and adult (for parents and guardians).The group, which gathers weekly met yesterday for its last counseling session.

The name Sandy Wave Riders was selected as a way to illustrate that with the proper coping skills, people can move forward with their lives. The power of the waves provide support and energy to ride out the tough times, explained Nicci Spinazzola, a New Jersey Disaster Response Crisis Counselor  and  specialist in children’s behavioral health  concerns.

“This particular program was an important step toward developing a framework that reinstated a level of predictability and emotional control in the children’s daily lives,” said Carolyn Beauchamp, President and CEO of MHANJ.

Daycare owner and director Nicki Ann Cordi reached out to Hope and Healing when she saw how upset the children were after the storm. She said many of them had lost everything and were having trouble expressing their anger and fear. Joyce McEwan, grandmother to a seven year old participating in the program said the Wave Riders has been a blessing, allowing her grandson to openly discuss his feelings in a safe and judgment-free way.

As New Jersey Hope and Healing draws to a close, clinical mental health counseling services for storm survivors will be encouraged for individuals who require continued assistance.

Through a federal Social Services Block Grant, MHANJ’s New Jersey Mental Health Cares Helpline now is serving as a gateway to clinical outpatient mental health and addiction services as well as inpatient substance use disorder services for survivors of Superstorm Sandy. At this time, it is serving about 400 residents. Anyone interested is encouraged to call the toll-free number, 1-866-202-HELP (4357) (TTY 1-877-294-4356), for more information and assistance.

To qualify for a referral for the expanded services, individuals must have lived at the time of the storm in one of the 10 counties hardest hit: Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Union and Ocean and Cumberland.

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