A new outreach program in Essex and Clinton counties will provide counseling for individuals and families affected by Tropical Storm Irene.
Project Hope is a free crisis counseling initiative administered through the Mental Health Association of Essex County Inc. and facilitated by the state Office of Mental Health. The program is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Gretch Sando, project coordinator for Project Hope, told the Enterprise that through the program, counselors will go door-to-door in some of the areas hit hardest by Irene.
"It's about checking in and asking how they're doing, and talking about what happened," she explained.
For some, it might seem strange that a counseling program would start nearly three months removed from the flooding. Sando said she asked the same question when the program was announced.
"They (FEMA) chose this time frame because initially, there were all of these first responders and volunteers, and fundraisers began in these communities," she said. "And now at this time, first responders have gone home, and fundraisers wind down, but people are still left with a mess or no home.
"This is a time when they can feel abandoned or more alone," Sando added. "It can be like a death, when there's the funeral and all this support, and then months later, it hits you."
Sando said counselors will also look to educate people.
"Some folks may not understand their own reactions to what they're feeling, so we're going to give them information," she said. "It's a little different than case management; no funding is provided, and it's focused on empowering folks who've survived this disaster, and helping folks reconnect with the strengths in themselves and in their communities."
Counselors can make multiple visits to the same household and help connect disaster victims with the resources they need, according to Sando. She said Project Hope will also make referrals if necessary.
"If it looks like someone is really having a tough time and might benefit from talking to somebody beyond several visits to their home, we might make a referral to the services they need," Sando said.
Individuals and families who take advantage of Project Hope will remain anonymous, as crisis counselors do not diagnose anyone and nothing is filed or recorded.
Sando said counselors may also hold public forums and facilitate group meetings.
The grant program is time-limited and is expected to continue until the storm's one-year anniversary, which would be Aug. 28, 2012.
"We have a team leader in each county, and we have crisis counselors in each county," Sando said. "We're getting very positive responses at this point. We've been welcomed into homes, and people want to talk. It's a good thing."
For more information about Project Hope, contact Sando at 518-524-9616.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.