Radha Hettiarachchi ‘10 talks about her work with Project Hope in Staten Island, New York.
I work as a crisis counselor with Project Hope, a crisis counseling program to help individuals, families and groups impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Project Hope is supported by FEMA and is administered through the New York State Office of Mental Health, but it operates from specific sites.
I work out of the Staten Island Mental Health Society, where I interned during my undergraduate years as a psychology major and biology minor at Adelphi. I kept in contact with colleagues and fellow supervisors. After Sandy, I heard that Project Hope was looking for new workers. I was especially interested because I was affected by the storm and I wanted to give back. I immediately contacted a former supervisor and asked how I could get involved while pursuing my master’s degree in social work.
Most of my Project Hope work is door-to-door outreach in the areas of Staten Island ravaged by the storm. We’ve been active since a couple of weeks after the storm, and many people are still reporting a high level of psychological distress in the form of sleep deprivation, anxiety, negative thoughts and general sadness. I think it’s due to the fact that most people just need help—not only emotional support—but they are just exhausted and overwhelmed by the process of financing and rebuilding.
People are grateful that we are still out talking and listening to them and providing referrals for getting further support. Since Project Hope is a short-term crisis counseling program, we can’t stay with clients for long, but we do our best to help them locate the resources they need to meet their needs, such as child care, funding, food or supplies.
I tap into my own strengths of listening and providing support—the open ear and a nonjudgmental approach. I can definitely relate to their stories, even though I have never disclosed to any survivor that I am also a survivor. Smiling goes a long way, I have realized.
I learned a lot at Adelphi, especially as a member of the first graduating class of the Levermore Global Scholars Program, which emphasizes civic engagement and community activism. Altogether, the service trips, volunteer experiences, classes and professors were great. I loved my time at Adelphi.
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