WAHOO – In 2019, the Nebraska Strong Recovery project was created to offer crisis counseling for those emotionally affected by the devastating floods. Now, this outreach organization’s charter has been extended to aid people in the area who are struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Nebraska Strong Recovery Project is an outreach program operated by Region V Systems. Region V provides behavioral health services in Saunders, Butler, Nemaha, Saline and Richardson counties.
The state applied for a crisis counseling grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after the 2019 spring flood. Similar programs were provided after the Hallam tornado in 2004. Initially services were to be provided through April 2020. But when the pandemic struck, those services were extended by FEMA.
This is the first time an outreach program like this has been implemented for a pandemic-level event, said Theresa Henning, director of special projects for Region V. However, the program is not much different than the one that was developed after the 2019 flood, because what people are going through now is not much different than what is experienced after a major disaster like a flood.
“Reactions are similar as far as individuals affected by the pandemic or individuals affected by flooding,” Henning said.
In the case of a natural disaster or a pandemic, people will often ignore their emotions as they deal with the losses that result. In the case of a pandemic, those losses could be a severe as a loved one dying from COVID-19, or the elimination of a person’s job because of the economic turmoil the pandemic has caused in the country and the world. Or, they could be struggling with homeschooling their children or enduring months without regular social interaction due to restrictions placed because of the pandemic.
“Right now, emotionally, individuals are struggling for a number of reasons,” Henning said.
The Nebraska Strong Recovery outreach workers provide emotional support to individuals affected by the pandemic or a disaster. Henning said they are not counselors, but they are trained in the FEMA crisis counseling model.
“We are here to be the ear for people who might be going through a stressful time and to help people with resources for needs that are not being met,” Brett Berge told the Ashland City Council when they attended a meeting last September.
Berge and Cory Mattly are providing crisis counseling services in Saunders and Butler counties, and they reached out to multiple organizations last fall to spread the word about the Nebraska Strong Recovery Project. It was also at that time that they first set up support group meetings in Wahoo. Henning said the meetings began Nov. 16 and were held for several weeks until the holidays and weather decreased attendance.
The support group started back up again on Jan. 25. Meetings are held every Monday morning at 9 a.m. at Wahoo Public Library. Social distancing is practiced and masks are required in the library.
Henning said the support group offers a place for people to share what they are going through, as well as to find help.
“It’s just an opportunity for individuals in the community to come together and learn about how to cope with the current situation dealing with COVID,” she said.
The outreach workers who conduct the support group meetings can offer self-care exercises and other methods to deal with the emotional aspects of the pandemic, Henning said. If more help is needed, they can refer individuals to mental health or substance abuse services.
Berge and Mattly can also connect people with resources to meet physical needs, such as lack of
housing or food insecurity, Henning said
Wahoo is currently the only community in Saunders County where support groups are held, Henning said. But they are looking at starting groups in other places, if the need is there. Henning said Mattly and Berge have spoken with authorities in Ashland about providing services at the library there. That is where they set up after the flood in 2019 to offer weekly sessions where they provided recovery assistance.
The Nebraska Strong Recovery Project team also went door-to-door after the flood in the areas of Saunders County affected by the flood to listen to stories, help problem-solve, connect victims with resources and provide education on the common reactions to disaster and the phases of disaster. They also attended local public events and celebrations to pass out literature.
The pandemic has curtailed these types of in-person activities, however, so the organization is relying on other ways to spread the word about what they are doing.
If a person cannot attend one of the Monday morning support group sessions in Wahoo but they need assistance or they just want to learn more about the Nebraska Strong Recovery Project, they can call two hotlines offered in the state – the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline (1-800-464-0258) or the Nebraska Family Helpline (1-888-866-8660), Henning said.