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The Communal Trauma of Covid 19
By Miriam Arond
At Westchester Jewish Community Services (WJCS), our human services agency has specialized in treating trauma since 1982 when, what is now known as, the Trager Lemp Center: Treating Trauma & Promoting Resilience was founded. For over three decades we have helped adult and child survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and other traumas, provided vicarious trauma trainings to first responders, case workers, and other individuals who are in regular contact with traumatized individuals, and educated organizations about the importance of and logistics involved in providing trauma-informed care. We have worked with synagogues and schools during times of great communal trauma and provided care for people affected by 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.
Yet the trauma triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike one we’ve ever seen. It has affected every person in our county, country, and world. People have faced illness, death of loved ones, job loss, financial and food insecurity, parenting stress sparked by working from home while managing children’s remote learning, social isolation, and rising anxiety and depression. At WJCS, where we provide programs and services to over 20,000 people annually, we instantly pivoted to offering services virtually in cases when they could not be conducted in person. Our goal has been to ensure that none of our clients feel alone and abandoned, no matter how challenging the situation.
Since COVID-19 began, our mental health clinicians have provided 45,000+ telehealth sessions, including individual and group counseling, psychiatric evaluation, and medication management, through secure video and/or telephone sessions. We have worked with our 40+ partner synagogues and day schools to provide bereavement counseling at a time when traditional mourning rituals are prohibited, Mindfulness Meditation and other spiritual workshops by Zoom, and home-delivered kosher food and support to aging Holocaust Survivors. At our 13 group homes for disabled adults, our direct support professionals have provided round-the-clock care, an especially challenging mission when residents, due to social distancing requirements, cannot attend day programs or see family.
Poor communities and people of color have been profoundly affected. We have seen firsthand how problems relating to health, safety, food insecurity, childcare, grief, and isolation overwhelm already stretched coping skills and resources. Our food drop offs to needy families in southwest Yonkers and other parts of Westchester enabled our clinical and peer staff to engage with families in person with concrete and supportive services. Our MOMs group for women impacted by domestic violence and the accompanying group for children who have witnessed domestic violence have been meeting virtually.
Creating structure and providing enrichment is so important for youth. We are proud that the WJCS Weiner Academy for Young Women successfully launched a summer camp for girls that was held outdoors and, when weather was inclement, operated remotely. Campers participated in arts and crafts, group discussions, scavenger hunts, physical activities, like jumping rope, and weekly garden visits.
In these unprecedented times, many LGBTQ+ youth have felt more isolated than usual, as some feel “stuck” at home in families in which they are not supported. We have conducted virtual support groups for LGBTQ+ youth and Trans youth and their parents. Individual counseling sessions have been provided to youth via Telehealth and in person. Center Lane facilitated Virtual Pride Camps on three topics: LGBTQ+ Identity, Healthy Relationships, and Isms & Intersectionality.
We are so thankful that, with the support of our funders, we have been able to confront these challenges and help vulnerable families and at-risk adolescents. As our clients often tell us, feeling connected to and supported by the community is what makes all the difference at this difficult time.
Miriam Arond is Director of Communications for WJCS. To learn more about services and programs provided by WJCS, go to www.wjcs.com.