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Transit buses to carry message of hope to Sandy survivors
HOWELL - The Christie administration today launched a bus poster campaign to help raise awareness for a crisis counseling program aimed at providing emotional support to survivors of Superstorm Sandy. This promotional push is funded by an $11.5 million grant awarded by The Federal Emergency Management Agency. For months, more than 200 crisis counselors from the New Jersey Hope and Healing Program have been canvassing the streets of neighborhoods hardest hit by the superstorm, meeting with nearly 300,000 survivors in their neighborhoods, town halls, churches, and anywhere else where people need help to deal with the emotional aftermath of the storm.
“As recognizable as our Hope and Healing counselors are in their bright yellow vests and as helpful as they’ve been to so many residents, there still are people who are unaware of this important program and the services it provides,” said Jennifer Velez, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services, which oversees the program. “Emotional counseling can be a critical tool in disaster recovery, so we want to make sure that everyone who needs our help knows where to find it.”
To raise awareness, a fleet of 200 buses that run along shoreline routes and other heavily impacted areas of the state will help spread the message. In addition, radio spots and newspaper ads are being targeted to the nine most impacted counties, which include Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean and Union.

Through its Disaster and Terrorism Branch (DTB) of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, DHS spearheads the New Jersey Hope and Healing Program in partnership with the Mental Health Association of New Jersey, Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention,Family Services in Atlantic County and Family Services Bureau in Newark.
The FEMA grant also funds the continued operations of a confidential helpline as part of the New Jersey Hope and Healing program – 1 (877) 294-HELP (4357) and TTY availability 1(877) 294-4356, for people recovering from Sandy’s emotional impact.
“This bus campaign is another way to get the word out that we’re here to help,” said DTB Director Adrienne Fessler-Belli. “It’s part of our comprehensive initiative to reach as many survivors as possible,’ she said, noting that Hope and Healing posters and promotional material have been distributed throughout the impacted areas.
Research shows that anxiety and depression can increase during a prolonged recovery. Symptoms can include: anxiety, a feeling of hopelessness, depression, sadness, inability to concentrate, insomnia, isolation and grief. In addition, individuals may experience nightmares, flashbacks, new or worsening health problems and unusual alcohol, tobacco and drug use, according to Fessler-Belli. She noted that the level of support from family and social networks also affects recovery.
Outreach and support efforts aim to promote resilience through use of good support systems and coping techniques, including sharing your feelings, maintaining your routine, and seeking professional advice if necessary.
In addition to the Hope and Healing counselors, DTB, through a special certification system, has trained more than 600 volunteers, known as disaster response crisis counselors, from throughout the state to provide immediate emotional support after a disaster. Some of these counselors were dispatched recently to Seaside Park following the devastating fire that destroyed 60 boardwalk businesses.
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