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Healing continues 2 years later

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 inflicted a wound on the United States that, two years later, still has yet to heal.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BALTIMORE | September 11, 2003

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 inflicted a wound on the United States that, two years later, still has yet to heal. But despite the physical, economic and psychological damage caused on that day, a number of faith-based programs that otherwise might not have come into existence are still in operation today and, in some cases, even more popular than they were just a year ago, according to Linda Reed-Brown, associate director of Domestic Disaster Response for Church World Service (CWS).

CWS is one of the main proponents of these programs, which range from providing training on trauma response to teaching clergy about peace-building skills, Reed-Brown said.

One of the most successful of these programs, she said, is Interfaith Trauma Response Program.

Bill Sage, coordinator of that program, said he and his coworkers have been training clergy on response to major disasters akin to Sept. 11 since the month after the attacks occurred. Most of their presentations taught in English, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and Arabic were conducted in New York and Washington, D.C., he said, but Boston and Fort Worth have also hosted training events as well.

Sage said attendance remained high for the first year, and then it leveled out until this spring, when enrollment shot up.

"I think as long as everybody's being reminded to be alert that just reinforces for clergy that they need to be more aware of what the circumstances might be," Sage said.

Another CWS-sponsored program that has seen renewed interest since the spring is the Seminars on Trauma Awareness and Recovery (STAR), held at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg, Va.

Carolyn Yoder, a professor at EMU, who teaches in some of the weeklong peace-building sessions, said that interest has picked up since the commencement of the war in Iraq, and hasn't flagged since then.

Part of the program's appeal, she said, is the blending of both personal and societal response "to breaking the cycle of violence."

On the one hand, participants both clergy and secular community leaders are asked to share specific symbols of trauma.

"One woman brought her husband's glasses," Yoder said. "He was killed in the Nairobi [embassy] bombing."

On the other hand, teachers show how societies collectively react to profound trauma, such as the shock inflicted on Sept. 11.

Participants also learn "how you build a just and peaceful society," both by examining "the root causes" of the trauma, as well as by studying "what makes us more secure."

Another reason interest may have increased since the beginning of the Iraq war, Yoder thinks, may be the resurgence of uncertainty and fear provoked by the war.

"What I'm noticing is an increase in general fatigue levels a sense of fear and anxiety we've really seen that go up and a sense of discouragement," she said. "But at the end of the week, it's really interesting people say that leave feeling really hopeful."

Another aspect of the post-Sept. 11 work sponsored by CWS focused on the lingering health problems in New York City following the World Trade Center's collapse. CWS's Joanne Hale, as well as Florence Coppola of the United Church of Christ have both been active in working with the Mount Sinai Medical Center to make sure that people sickened by the dust clouds exhaled from Ground Zero get medical help.

"We'll keep pressing on," Coppola said.

But besides the physical health problems, Coppola worries about the psychological trauma that can resurface on the anniversary.

"I think the second anniversary is more difficult for people in some ways," she said. "Some people are tired of being the object of a war and the object of pity, and they are finding that they want to move on with their lives."

And she's particularly worried about kids who lost parents in the WTC.

"For little kids, time doesn't have as much meaning," Coppola said, "but pictures do."

Getting financial help to those who took an economic hit from Sept. 11 is also a priority for faith-based groups.

The New Jersey Interfaith Partnership for Disaster Recovery is one such organization that continues to provide assistance, said the Rev. June Stitzinger-Clark, president of the interfaith's board of trustees.

Her organization continues to pay out assistance to needy clients, she said, and she hopes that funding will last through April of 2005.

Not much has changed since the interfaith got underway, she said. There is still a steady flow of people to help. But recently Stitzinger-Clark has been seeing more and more "chronic" clients, people who have had a really hard time getting their lives back to normal.

With those people in mind, she is considering the option of raising the maximum amount paid out to a client ($1,000 for the partnership, and $8,000 for the member organizations).

Whether that change is made or not, there are still thousands in need of help, and the passage of two years hasn't made their problems disappear.

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