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Friday, Dec 28, 2012

Getting the job done despite Sandy

Piles of debris that until recently had been personal belongings of families lined up in rows along streets and neighborhoods in Long Beach and other besieged towns on Long Island’s Nassau County in the wake of a “superstorm” named Sandy. The evidence of sudden devastation quickly became a common backdrop as thousands of parents, children, and neighbors began their struggle to pick up any pieces they could – pieces of their home, their belongings, their lives – and get back to as normal a life as possible.

Many families left the area, seeking safer protection; while others remained in their homes, hoping for the best. Some were already struggling with poverty and hunger, domestic violence and drug abuse, and horrific terrors only they knew, and the storm compounded the stress of these dangers and obstacles many times over as basic survival became their first priority.

There were others living in the same neighborhoods: caregivers, professional counselors, family specialists, and other social workers from Berkshire Farm Center & Services for Youth. They too felt their own daily stresses, but also the stress of the people they help day after day. imageAnd now – like everyone else – they were dealing with this horrific storm.  Even so, they made sure they cared for the people who relied on them.

Despite evacuation orders, some stayed in the area, riding out the storm while their homes became islands. Their cars were submerged or washed away and homes that had rested comfortingly next door were suddenly gone – some were rubble, and some were swept away by the storm surge.image

Tara Deutsch-Widman, a family specialist with Berkshire’s Family Connections Program, has lived in Lindenhurst since 2007. The storm detached her house from its foundation. Outside, someone’s boat rested between a tree and a utility pole in the front yard of a neighboring house.

The days following the storm were particularly challenging. Along with dealing with their own problems, these professionals had a job to do – to check on their clients to ensure they were safe and were receiving the services they needed. These safety checks were especially difficult because of debris in the roads and many neighborhoods were closed off.

imageOne of these caregivers called the landscape surreal. “We had to talk our way into the area,” explained Shannon Egan. “We had to convince National Guard troops that we weren’t looters and were there on legitimate business.” Other obstacles were obvious: no car, no gas, incredibly long lines at gas stations, detours, and so on. Many of their clients don't have cell phones, and in some cases our family specialists had no idea if their clients were still in their homes or had evacuated . . . or worse.

Rising to the challenge, some of our social workers who still had cars covered for those who did not and couldn’t get around. The safety checks were completed, and Egan, who has a hybrid car, was able to pick up a child and parents at the hospital and take them home when they were able to return. Samantha Boothe, a family specialist got around with the help of a friend. Families and friends of other Berkshire staff also helped by providing rides and shelter.

“I am so proud of our dedicated staff,” said Timothy Giacchetta, Berkshire’s CEO. “They rose to this unprecedented and horrific occasion and made sure the people they serve were safe, despite the many hurdles suddenly thrust in their way.”

imageGiacchetta and Chief Program Officer, Jim Dennis traveled to Long Island just days after the storm to ensure Berkshire’s folks were okay as well. Berkshire practices what is known as the Sanctuary Model, which recognizes that caregivers need care, too. Berkshire understands that trauma is pervasive and the Sanctuary Model focuses not only on people who seek treatment, but equally on the people and systems that provide that treatment. “We knew that although they had a job to do, they too were reeling from the loss of their homes, belongings, cars, and a sense of security, just like the families we serve,” said Giacchetta (left in the photo).

He and Jim Dennis (right in the photo) met with Berkshire’s caregivers at a restaurant because their office had been destroyed – to determine how they were and what they needed in order to do their job as well as to recover.  Berkshire's Sanctuary Team also sent them "Care Packages" that included a note of support and thanks, some candy, a special mug, and even a Teddy Bear.

Mr. Dennis said the spirit and commitment they showed in the wake of the storm are the very qualities Berkshire looks for in its employees. “Going the extra mile to care for the families we care for, even though they themselves were suffering shows we picked the right people for the job,” Dennis remarked. “We’re very proud of them all!”

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