New Yorkers talk about healing

BY HEATHER MOYER | BROOKLYN | October 22, 2001

"The primary need of children is reassurance that they will continue to receive protection and love."

—Rev. Richard Armstrong

"I don't know what to say to my kids about all this -- I can't just say 'everything will be better' because I'm not even sure of that."

Those were the words of one concerned parent at a Lutheran Disaster Response event on Saturday.

Close to 100 people attended "Beginning the Healing: A Time for Listening, Sharing, and Counseling," a session aimed at helping local citizens cope.

Attendees included numerous pastors from the NYC area, trained counselors and therapists, and members of nearby churches.

The session opened with a workshop by the Lutheran Disaster Response team entitled "God's Care in Times of Crisis," where team leaders the Rev. Richard Armstrong and Ann Eisfeldt talked about subjects like how children of different ages deal with tragedy and how to help oneself get through these difficult times as well.

Many attendees voiced concern about what to tell their kids. "The primary need of children is reassurance that they will continue to receive protection and love," said Armstrong. He then reminded the group about how important it is for everyone to take care of themselves. "As parents and counselors, we also have to deal with where we're at before we can be as effective in dealing with where others are at," he said.

Attendees were then invited to speak up and tell more about how their lives have changed since the Sept. 11 attacks. Some spoke of their inability to sleep, some of how afraid they are of losing their job, and some spoke of having already lost their jobs. Others spoke of a continuing fear of more violence, of biological warfare and other threats on the country. A common thread amongst the group was a continued sense of shock.

"I used to think all this couldn't happen here, but now it has and I'm afraid," said one woman. Another woman spoke of her fear in living by the Brooklyn Bridge. "We have so much security over there now, I have to show my ID to all these uniformed guards just to get to my house - and we have no idea if someone will indeed go after the bridge," said the woman.

Many of the therapists and counselors spoke of their connection to their clients. "I have never felt so personally affected as a therapist helping others as I do right now," said one therapist.

One positive comment brought up was from another parent in the group. "After the attacks, I am now feeling more of a comfort with my family and being with them, and knowing that they are all I need," said the parent. "I feel like with them at home, I have everything I really need."

Eisfeldt then spoke of another security she thought everyone should have. "One security we do have is that God is with us everyday and will always love us," she said. "We need to remember that in these insecure times."

Lutheran Disaster Response, along with Bethany Lutheran Church, Lutheran Social Services, and many other social service organizations, helped sponsor Saturday's session. It is just one of them many ways they're assisting in the NYC relief.

John Scibilia is the coordinator of Lutheran Disaster Response in New York City. "Our goals during this recovery effort are still evolving, but we are still getting a lot done to help people," he said. Scibilia said that through the Lutheran Counseling Center in New York City, they now have 20 trauma groups working around the city and they've also established a toll-free number that's on 24 hours/day for pastoral counseling needs. "We're averaging about 100 to 150 calls each day on that hotline," he said.

Lutheran Social Services has been active in the area of foster care too, said Scibilia. "We have 400 area foster families that we work with," he said. "We're trying to get out to them more now because sometimes these foster kids already have sort of low sense of security with different parents - and during times like this it's worse."

Lutheran Disaster Response in New York City has also been assisting the Salaam Arabic Lutheran Church, a church in an Arabic community. During the Saturday session, Scibilia gave the church a $15,000 check from Lutheran Disaster Response so that they could establish counseling services for the community as well as work on race relations.

The Lutheran Schools Association in New York City has been working with the educators and students in their 112 area schools. "We're using the same training we have here today (at "Beginning the Healing") with our teachers and administrators," said Marlene Lund, Executive Director of the Lutheran Schools Association. "We're also doing Crisis Preparation training with the staff, since we certainly weren't ready for this and we want to be ready for any future crises."

The focus of the organization's upcoming teachers' conference in November has also certainly changed since the attacks, said Lund. "We want to help them and others cope," she said. "We want to look at the stages, see what we can do, and also think about how much is too much when it comes to training and sessions."

Lund said the outpouring of kindness to their schools has been heartwarming.

"Schools from around the U.S. have responded bigger and better than we could have imagined," said Lund. "We've received thousands of cards and stuffed animals and letters just saying things like 'we're thinking of you.' "

She added that she has many of the students in her schools responding to those who sending in gifts or letters just "letting them know that we're okay." The students in their system are getting any needed assistance.

Lund said that any Lutheran School student who lost a parent or parents in the attacks is also receiving a scholarship so that they can stay at their school. "Our biggest concerns now are our students and staff," she said.

More sessions like "Beginning the Healing" are planned for the future.

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