Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Superstorm Sandy, Trauma Recovery Counseling

As I write this, I'm in Sayreville, New Jersey, doing volunteer crisis counseling for the victims of Superstorm Sandy. I arrived at midnight on the 11th and am staying until the evening of the 18th.

Before I came here, I did a book drive, contacting my writers' groups and asking for donations to be sent to where I'm staying. I knew from experience that people in shelters needed the distraction that a good book can provide. I promised that if I had the time and energy, I'd write some blog posts to keep let people know how it was going. So this post in about keeping that promise

First of all, I I want to acknowledge that I've been welcomed with open arms. People are very touched that someone would come all the way from California on their own accord to help out. My friend, Bill, is housing me and driving me around. Through him I was networked into Catholic Charities. (Did you know Catholic Charities helps people who aren't Catholic? I didn't.) Monday, day one for me, was spent in meeting the people from Catholic Charities and determining where my services could be best utilized. Yesterday started with a meeting of all the agencies in the area who are working to help the victims, including the Red Cross, FEMA, Catholic Charities, United Way, and other government and local organizations. During and after the storm, many of these organizations had to deal with the loss of power or perhaps even damage to their own buildings, but the staff worked hard to help others, and managed to get creative and still accomplish a great deal both for their clients and the general community.

The purpose of the meeting was to learn what everyone was doing and to find a way to enhance the communication between the various agencies. I was there to talk about the free trauma recovery groups I was going to do, and also the group I wanted to organize for the people in the room and anyone else who's worked for one of the organizations serving the victims.

After the meeting, I went to the Red Cross shelter at Rutgers. Earlier in the day Shirley Hailstock had dropped off boxes of books and tote bags, and by the time I got there, people were happily reading. I've been receiving boxes of books (and know I have more coming). Tomorrow, I'll donate them to the distribution center.

I did my first group at the Red Cross shelter. By this time, many of the people who'd originally taken refuge there had moved on to live with families or friends, or found local housing. Those who stayed, had no where else to go. Some had been homeless before the storm and were coping with other issues such has not having proper medication. These people have had a chance to have their lapsed prescriptions renewed, and staff members are trying to transition them into local programs or at least a better situation. So they are receiving the support and attention that they normally don't have. One man commented with awe that he'd been taken to the Rutgers football game.

I also had five Red Cross workers join the group, so I had a mixed "bag" of people. Once I started the group, I felt this inner sense of relief. Even though I'd been "helping" since I'd been in NJ, I finally was doing what I'd really come here to do--aid people in their healing process. My crisis groups are usually a mix of education and sharing, and this one was no different, although I had to sometimes simplify things. But afterwards, I had a lot of feedback that the group was helpful--which was good to hear considering I had to meet very differing needs.

After working at the shelter, I had a break from thinking about the work when Bill, who graduated from Rutgers, took me to a popular restaurant and then to his favorite bar. If you know me personally, you know I'm not a bar person, but this was fun because Bill knew the staff, and we had interesting conversations and lots of laughs. The perfect way to escape for a while.

Today I started my first group at St. Mary of the Victories, and it was to help people, such as the staff of Catholic Charities, who'll be working with the victims. This group was both a training for them in what to say and do to help people with their emotional recovery, but also a place where they could share their own feelings and take a little personal time. I enjoyed working with such a great group of dedicated, caring individuals, knowing that they'd take what they received from their experience with me and pass it on.

Ironically, I gave them a lecture in self-care, but hadn't taken the time for breakfast, and then the group went so long it overlapped with group 2, so I didn't have lunch. However, my excuse was I squeezed in a little workout at Bill's gym, which is in itself self-care, and I did grab a protein drink and add a vitamin packet to it. And I had a protein bar in my purse for after the group. So I was doing self-care, just maybe not as well as I should have.

Catholic Charities has supplied me with a car, and Bill programed his GPS for me. So I'll be able to drive where needed.

The rectory at the church has a guest suite, and I was able to take a nap and join the priest for dinner. He shared with me that he was able to get the message for my groups to the community information network. We have them scheduled every day, including Sunday. I took a picture of the television. They missed the 12:30 Saturday group which is scheduled at the Senior Center. If you know of anyone in the area, encourage them to attend.

I'm sitting on the bed in my guest suite, quickly typing this before heading out to my 7:00 group. Please excuse any typos, missing words, and other mistakes because I'm not going to do my normal editing job.

I just wanted to express my thanks to everyone who's supported me, by praying or thinking positive thoughts, by sending books I can donate, or by being a member of this community and doing so much to help me out. I truly feel blessed to have the support so I can give to others.


  1. I'm so proud to know you, Debra! Thank you for doing this.

  2. Loved the recap. It's heartwarming to know folks like you that are there helping through this difficult time.

  3. You are one awesome lady Debra! I truly admire you and all you do for those in need. Your kindness and knowledge, I'm sure, has touched many, many lives. Kudos to you!

  4. You are doing an amazing thing. I'm sure they appreciate you and all those books you brought with you.

  5. What a great service you're providing, Debra! Thanks so much for helping people. I mailed books Tuesday. They should be there today or tomorrow. :)

  6. Thank you so much for doing this, Deb. You are truly a blessed, gifted, giving person. I'm so proud to know you.

    Is there a general address we can send books to for the distribution center? I didn't get to put any in the mail and I really want to.


  7. What a wonderful thing for you to do, and so much appreciated by the people there. I've sent books to the address you gave me. Hope they get there soon.
    Stella MacLean

  8. I'll be at the distribution center today and will see if there's an address.

    Thanks for the books, Stella!

  9. Bless you, Debra, you are doing such good work.

    I mailed a box of books on Tuesday, so it should arrive soon.

    Remember to take care of yourself. Eat!

  10. Thank you, Debra, for taking the time and energy to do this. Until you've been in such a disaster, you'll never know how much the people there appreciate it, but I assure you, they'll remember your kindness for years or the rest of their lives.

  11. My mom, my sister and I just got back from a birthday vacation weekend in Manhattan, booked well in advance of the storm. There was no discernable damage there, but everywhere we went the customer service staff greeted us with "Did you get through the storm alright?" and ended our encounters with "Keep warm."

    We're from Halifax, Nova Scotia in eastern Canada, and we had the tail end of that storm but nothing serious. However, we had Hurricane Juan almost 10 years ago, and we recognized the same sort of shell-shocked need to talk about Sandy, so we chatted with everyone who needed to. I'm glad you're there offering support. We were very touched by the way New Yorkers or those who work in NY were reaching out to one another.

  12. best part of this post is The purpose of the meeting was to learn what everyone was doing and to find a way to enhance the communication between the various agencies
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