NY “Surviving Sandy” Groups Help Heal Invisible Scars

While homes damaged in Hurricane Sandy are being repaired and renovated on Long Island, N.Y., homeowners and their families must also deal with the psychological damage the disaster may have left behind. This hidden trauma may take years to overcome.

“Everyone has been dealing with the visible problems, we’re dealing with scars you don’t see,” said Paul Engel, a clinical social worker who is running a “Surviving Sandy” group at Oceanside United Methodist Church in Oceanside, N.Y..

The support group, which is offered through the Foundation for Religion and Mental Health (FRMH), has been meeting since early December with eight to 10 participants each week. The fact that seven people showed up at a meeting on New Year’s Eve indicates just how important the support is for those who participate.

The meetings at Oceanside UMC are at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays. Engel is also leading another group that meets 1 p.m. on Fridays at Temple Avodah in Oceanside, where he is a member.  Both meetings are free and open to anyone in need of emotional support.

Engel hopes to be able to expand the Sandy support groups to Bellmore, Merrick, Island Park and Freeport by working with Project Hope, a new collaboration between state and local governments to provide outreach, crisis counseling and educational services for New Yorkers in the hardest hit areas of Hurricane Sandy. Project Hope is funded by an $8.2 million grant from FEMA.

Rev. Steve Phillips, pastor at Oceanside UMC, became acquainted FRMH during his tenure at Pleasantville UMC in Pleasantville, N.Y., and has welcomed the support group to the church. He noted that the homes of about 20 families in the congregation had sustained significant damage, including the home of retired pastor, Janet Porcher. They have received some direct help in the mucking out and demolition from the youth group at Jesse Lee Memorial UMC in Ridgefield, Conn.

Engel explained that many of the people who participate are dealing with more than just one issue.

“They are dealing with grief, with the loss of a loved one . . . on top of all the issues related to Sandy and the impact on their families,” he said.

Engel can be contacted by phone at 516-547-4318, or by email at frmh@optonline.netfor information about the existing support groups, forming new ones, and the other counseling services that the foundation offers.

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