July 17, 2024
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July 17, 2024
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Hurricane-Ravaged Communities Benefit From OHEL’s Trauma Support Team

(Courtesy of OHEL) OHEL’s trauma team, which has years of experience in natural tragedies, continues to provide critical help to individuals, families and schools affected by Hurricane Harvey.

As many have personally experienced from Hurricane Irma, Sandy and other such natural disasters, the devastating effects of a hurricane can last for weeks, months and longer.

OHEL was in contact with community leaders, as was OHEL board member Ben Englander, who has relatives in Houston, and dispatched a trauma team to Houston to help the local community leaders.

Our dedicated team, which provided counseling, teacher training and home visits as needed, was led by Dr. Norman Blumenthal, Zachter Family Chair in Trauma and Crisis Counseling at OHEL, and Tzivy Reiter, OHEL director, with Tzvi Wesson, clinical coordinator of OHEL’s mobile outreach team, and Cheryl Chernofsky, trauma team specialist.

The OHEL trauma team coordinated and worked especially closely with United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston and The Robert Beren Academy.

The trauma in the community was compounded by the fact that many of the same people now affected also experienced the floods of Memorial Day 2015 and/or Tax Day 2016, in addition to Hurricane Harvey.

As Tzivy Reiter reflects, “The damage to many was devastating. Many people lost all their possessions—their home, family heirlooms and family photos.”

The inconsistency of devastation—one part with rampant destruction and others largely spared—can create feelings of isolation in those areas affected, and even guilt for necessitating assistance, albeit less acute than the needs of others.

There are a range of responses to trauma that many people experience—emotional, behavioral, cognitive and physical. These reactions can vary, are individual and depend upon the person’s past experiences and coping styles. They are generally regarded to be “normal responses to an abnormal situation,” and for most people will subside over time. As Dr. Blumenthal enforces, “Necessitating professional trauma intervention is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it is most often borne out of a person’s strengths—feelings of empathy, compassion, depth of thought and sensitivity.”

Given OHEL’s history in supporting individuals and communities in the face of natural tragedies, we have produced many practical support materials to help strengthen those affected by trauma. OHEL sent hundreds of copies of practical and insightful workbooks and brochures to affected communities including a general trauma guide, “How to cope With Sudden Crisis: Rupture, Resilience & Repair”; a brochure specifically aimed at parents, titled “Building Strength in Children After Trauma and Stress”; and a popular children’s workbook, “My Resilience Workbook for Children.”

The people of Houston displayed tremendous unity despite all their challenges.

Lay people and community leaders, many of whom themselves suffered, continue now even weeks later to mobilize and work 24/7 to be a resource for others in the community.

The OHEL trauma team felt privileged to be of service to this amazing and special community and continues to be a critical and welcome resource for the difficult months ahead as they work toward recovery.

In mid-October, OHEL’s trauma team will return to Houston to support the community.

These include a community-wide lecture to address coping strategies for children during this difficult time; training a group of social work interns and psychiatry residents on how to help the community post disaster at The Baylor College School of Medicine. OHEL will also provide a number of school-based trainings including teacher training for UOS Goldberg Montessori School in Bellaire, Texas, and at The Beren Academy; a workshop for parents titled: “Calm After the Storm” at Bauer College of Business, University of Houston.

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