Hope and Healing group offers support for Sandy victims

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Cindy Nevitt / To some traumatized by Sandy, the “Cash Buyer Tear Downs Needed” message on the marquee at Grace Realty at the corner of 34th Street and Central Avenue is another reminder the fallout from the storm is not going away anytime soon. Cindy Nevitt / To some traumatized by Sandy, the “Cash Buyer Tear Downs Needed” message on the marquee at Grace Realty at the corner of 34th Street and Central Avenue is another reminder the fallout from the storm is not going away anytime soon.

OCEAN CITY – One survivor called Sandy “the storm that keeps on giving.”

Heather Lin, a facilitator at Tuesday night’s first New Jersey Hope and Healing support group meeting for Sandy survivors, held at St. John Lutheran Church, said that is one of the primary obstacles preventing people from moving on from the historic Oct. 29 storm.

“People cannot start to recover until they get past the pain,” she said. “This isn’t ending. More and more and more is being piled on,” she said, mentioning Gov. Christie’s adoption of FEMA’s proposed advisory base flood elevation maps as law for the state, which could require many property owners to raise their homes; the certainty of increased flood insurance premiums as the federal government transitions the program from one that is subsidized to one that reflects actual risk; and the constant barrage of contradictory information from local, state and federal officials.

Add to that, said two women from the island’s Bays Landing neighborhood, the solicitations of opportunists trolling for reduced-price properties, whether it be letters mailed to their homes or an advertisement on an agency marquee offering cash for teardowns, and the assault on the emotions is relentless.

“There’s such confusion,” said Lin, who noted Sandy survivors attending Tuesday night support groups in North Wildwood and Ventnor are reporting the same emotional reaction to the misinformation overload. “It doesn’t look like there are going to be any answers soon.”

The general feeling of those affected by the storm, she said, is one of frustration.

Jerome Townsend, another facilitator of the group, which helps storm survivors manage the emotional consequences of flooding and understand the impact of weather emergencies, was among the first to share his story of how Sandy had affected him. He evacuated his Atlantic City home. His mother did not.

“I implored my mom to leave,” he said. “She said if she survived ’62, she could survive anything.”

But Sandy was not like the nor’easter of 1962, which had previously been considered the benchmark by which all other storms were measured. As water rose chest high on those neighbors who had waited too long to evacuate, Townsend said his mother’s decision to remain in her Chelsea Heights home caused him “extreme stress.”

Fortunately, he said, the flood waters stopped at her top step. Once the storm ended, he was prevented from entering the city for days, and was forced to sleep on the floor at his place of employment in Northfield.

“This is why we’re doing what we’re doing,” said Lin, a mother of three and resident of Upper Township whose home church is St. John’s. “This is close to our hearts.”

New Jersey Hope and Healing, which is sponsored by the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services through a FEMA grant, is about “neighbor helping neighbor,” the facilitators said.

Giving people a place to anonymously share their experiences and to vent is therapeutic, Townsend said. Because of the need to protect the privacy of those participating in the support group, no names other than those of the facilitators are being reported.

“We’re all from the community,” Lin said. “We’re all dealing with this.”

She encouraged those in attendance to take an hour in the coming week to focus on themselves and to do something “non-Sandy related.”

“Go out to lunch with a friend,” she instructed, “and do not talk about FEMA.”

The group’s next meetings will be at 6 p.m. Feb. 26 at St. John, 10th Street and Central Avenue in Ocean City; the North Wildwood Recreation Center at 900 Central Ave. in North Wildwood; and at Ventnor Community Center, 6500 Atlantic Ave., Ventnor. Call (877) 294-HELP for information.


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