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What to Do, What to Do?

Community Resilience Project prepares to leave mark.

Come June, the Community Resilience Project may be no more in Loudoun as a county program, something that does not have clinical coordinator Janine York too discouraged.

“What we’re trying to do as a Loudoun County project is figure out how we can leave our mark on the community,” York said.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established the project in Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington counties and the city of Alexandria to provide community outreach and support to Northern Virginia residents affected by the events. The grant for the project, which is administered in Loudoun by the county’s Community Services Board, ends on Dec. 14 for all four regions. FEMA approved a 90-day extension through March 14 and is considering a second 90-day extension to carry out the project to June 30, 2003 in each region.

THE COMMUNITY RESILIENCY PROJECT in Loudoun began with individual and group-crisis counseling related to the Pentagon attack. Three to four part-time staff members gave presentations at hospitals, senior centers and other locations on reactions to the event and stress-management presentations for emergency-assistance providers.

By early 2002, the project’s focus shifted from crisis counseling to outreach, so five outreach workers were hired in June. The outreach workers distributed information about the project, identified community needs and conducted workshops to address those needs, a major one being stress management. Four licensed mental-health providers agreed to assist the outreach workers with the workshops, which are held an average of two times a week.

“Everyone gets busier and busier, and we forget to take care of ourselves,” York said. “What we try to do is have people tap into the skills they already have. [They] forget they’re there and forget to use them.”

THE OUTREACH WORKERS use stress-management strategies to remind workshop participants of the skills they have and to tap into new skills, allowing them to become more resilient. Resiliency, as defined by the project, is “the ability to ‘bounce back’ after a setback” and return to normal daily patterns.

“It’s important to incorporate wellness practices into your life,” said Jackie Ondy, outreach worker. “Since Sept. 11, it was already a hectic place. It was one more stress.”

Ondy teaches participants in the stress-management workshops a few skills to deal with everyday stresses. She aims to help them gain self-awareness of how they problem solve, manage their time and physically and cognitively respond to situations. She listens and lets them know that their responses to stress are normal.

“I like helping people solve their everyday problems. That’s what it comes down to. It’s the everyday stresses. It’s all the little things that happen to you in a day,” Ondy said. “Sometimes giving people that first step is all they need, and they can do the rest.”

LIKEWISE, the Community Resilience Project staff wants to give the community the first step to continue some of the programs started through the grant project, which is the final shift in focus. The staff is trying to establish partnerships, such as with the Area Agency on Aging, to achieve this goal.

“What we try to do is to get people to communicate with one another and share ideas,” York said. “[We] try to create more of a sense of community, which in itself creates a larger sense of resilience.”

“Our plan is when this project ends, we need to leave things in place for the county and the community,” said Ann Hinerman, outreach worker.

In the next seven months, the staff plans to develop workshops for anger management, career transitions and emergency preparedness and continue providing information about the project and stress management at community events, community gathering places and businesses.

“We’re not throwing information into their faces. We’re there, a presence,” York said. “We provide a gap in services. People don’t often think about their stress. Generally, it’s when we’re in a crisis, we become overwhelmed and don’t know what to do about it. We’re an important resource for information when they’re in crisis.”