By Rochelle Maruch Miller

Before Hurricane Sandy struck, a family was planning their daughter’s wedding. Today, they are focused on finding a new place to live. Such is the consequential trauma of Hurricane Sandy’s wake.

In response, Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services has published a new free booklet entitled, “How To Cope With Sudden Crisis: Rupture, Resilience, and Repair,” offering comprehensive and practical advice in dealing with the predictable anxiety and stress that so many individuals and families are facing following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

The booklet was compiled by Ohel’s experienced trauma specialists who have been part of Ohel’s rapid response team in locations throughout the Five Towns, South Shore, North Shore, and the Rockaways. These highly trained professionals are focused on everyday issues that may turn into a crisis. Working in tandem, this team of experts helps stabilize, as quickly as possible, individuals or families coping with anxiety or the aftermath of trauma.

“As families recover from the immediate aftermath of Sandy’s devastation, many children and adults will continue to experience anxiety, a sense of insecurity, and some even full blown post-traumatic stress disorder,” comments David Mandel, CEO of Ohel.

Ohel’s rapid response team can help stem these reactions. So, too, community leaders and educators play a pivotal role in observing a change in behaviors, and mental health counseling can help recapture their emotional resilience.

In an interview with the 5TJT. Derek Saker, director of communications, Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, described the organization’s impressive efforts on behalf of our community in the wake of Sandy’s fury.

RMM: How has Ohel’s rapid response team helped families regain their emotional resilience in Sandy’s aftermath?

DS: People react to traumatic events differently. For some people, stressful and disrupting events are not traumatic. Others feel uncertain, scared, irritable, paralyzed, and overwhelmed. Some people will typically not feel like talking and just want to secure their basic physical needs and the understanding of another human being to witness their experience. Friends and family mean well but sometimes get drawn into giving advice or themselves feel personally overwhelmed.

Ohel’s trained trauma specialists are able to provide the special kind of listening needed in these circumstances. In addition, parents have questions about how to protect and help children adjust under chaotic circumstances. There are basic and proven techniques such as getting back to a stable routine, expressing optimism and confidence that they can cope and overcome the challenge (not false hope), and letting children express this by storytelling and drawing if they want to, and allowing them to keep their feelings to themselves if they want to, as well.

RMM: What are some of the ways in which Ohel works in tandem with our community’s rabbanim and lay leaders to provide support and succor to families and individuals devastated by Hurricane Sandy?

DS: Ohel has been in touch with rabbanim to assist their congregants in the short term and the long term. Ohel has trained mental health professionals assisting in several synagogues in the community. Our counseling center has just relocated and reopened at 1135 Railroad Avenue in Hewlett. Ohel is making every effort to speedily counsel those affected by the storm.

Ohel organized a free fun carnival for children earlier this month in cooperation with HAFTR. We have been invited to do the same in Long Beach.

RMM: What are some of the issues Ohel’s school-based mental health professionals have encountered and addressed?

DS: During the period after the hurricane, the school-based mental health professionals encountered increased anxiety and uncertainty. Many of the students had difficulty with organizing and adapting to changes in their routine. The staff created trauma groups to help the students develop coping skills and deal with loss.

RMM: Bayswater is one of the many communities ravaged by the storm. What is being done on their behalf?

DS: Ohel’s work in Bayswater included serving hot meals to the residents of the community and providing clothing and counseling services as needed. School-based mental health professionals and a mobile outreach team were deployed to Young Israel of Bayswater, which served as a general emergency shelter.

RMM: Please describe Ohel’s efforts on behalf of our Five Towns community.

DS: Many Ohel employees live in the Five Towns and have been directly affected by Hurricane Sandy. Some have completely lost their homes and while even in the throes of such personal loss, have worked 24/7, placing the needs of Ohel individuals above and beyond their own.

Prior to the storm, Ohel Bais Ezra evacuated residences in Woodmere, Hewlett, and Lawrence. These men and women with developmental disabilities were housed in the Regency in Brooklyn.

Ohel Bais Ezra Residences on Arlington Road and Peninsula Blvd. were severely damaged. We are looking for alternative local accommodations for five young men with autism. We are looking for a home in the Five Towns to rent immediately for several months.

Ohel’s rapid response has been stationed in critically affected areas, including Chabad of the Five Towns, Young Israel of Long Beach, and the White Shul. These teams provide crisis and trauma counseling, and family case management. In the transitioning second phase, which has already begun, they are providing family counseling, trauma counseling, and family case management to assist with concrete needs.

Ohel is opening a new storefront at 125B Spruce Street in Cedarhurst in the Gourmet Glatt shopping center. It will serve as a gateway of information to all Ohel services, Camp Kaylie, and the myriad volunteer opportunities.

RMM: How can we best provide emotional support to family and friends who have been traumatized by Sandy?

DS: Be careful not to offer too much advice. Just the act of compassionate concern and emotional availability can be very healing.

RMM: What message would you like to convey to our readers?

DS: Ohel is here in the community and we will get through this difficult time together. We live here, we work here, we provide many services to many people.

Ohel has extensive experience in providing counseling to those who may have a “small reaction” to the aftermath of this superstorm or help those with full blown trauma. Our message to the community is that many people will likely require not only financial and housing support but also emotional support as well. Seeking help is a sign of strength and not of weakness. v

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