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It’s been 16 months since Superstorm Sandy barreled into the East Coast. Outwardly, Brooklyn’s Gerritsen Beach looks normal. Valentine’s Day decorations fill the windows of the modest homes on side streets. The houses and yards seem cared for.
"The storm has changed the lives of everyone in some way," says Michael Taylor of We Care New York.
But underneath, the struggle for recovery continues.
“People are just depressed. You see that lifelessness in their eyes,” said Brett Scudder, a mental health advocate at We Care New York.
For many people here, the worst of Sandy is over. They have a roof over their heads, heat, and electricity. But the financial fallout continues.
Some residents can’t finish the work on their houses because they’ve run out of money, says Roberta Arcuri, a member of the Gerritsen Beach Property Owners Association. Others finished the renovations, but now have mold problems. “Or they used their credit cards and now they have debt,” she adds. “Or they used their savings and have nothing left to retire on.”
“The storm has changed the lives of everyone in some way,” says Michael Taylor, co-founder of Gerritsen Beach Cares and president of We Care New York. “Those who cared, care more. Those who were angry are angrier. Those who worried, worry more.”
Children’s Health Fund began providing mental health services to Gerritsen Beach residents shortly after the storm. We’re still there – because the need is there.
“Your physiology changes when you’re traumatized,” psychologist Paula Madrid explained to our recent gathering of Gerritsen Beach social workers, activists and caregivers. “And the more you’re exposed to it, the more your physiology changes.”
Madrid and her team offer a variety of activities to help people in the community bounce back from the traumas of the last year and a half. The event for caregivers focused on helping them deal with their own emotional exhaustion. Another recent event, a Valentine’s Day party for children, offered local kids chance to express themselves through crafts – and to reach out to other families who have experienced a natural disaster.
The team also offers group and individual counseling on its mobile mental health clinic.
Some residents find it helpful to connect with others who are experiencing the same problems. Others need a chance to release their grief and anxiety in a safe place. All are hoping to prove Madrid right when she says they really can recover.
“All of us are resilient,” she told the caregivers. “All of us are able to bounce back after trauma.”
Our work in Gerritsen Beach has been generously supported by grants from the American Red Cross and Americares.