Wednesday, November 14, 2012
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.
Posted by Dr. Debra Holland at 3:41 PM