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Project Hope Bids Fond Farewell

After more than a year of assisting residents affected by Hurricane Sandy, Project Hope crisis counselors will soon hang up their logo-adorned  blue fleece vests. Before they do, they will work with local agencies to ensure a smooth transition of services for those who continue to struggle.

“People had their lives turned upside down by Hurricane Sandy, and getting back to living their life, instead of focusing solely on recovering it, takes time,” said Project Hope Director Ken Gnirke. “For some people, that time can be counted in months. For others, it can take much longer, so we are working to ensure there is continuity of concern as Project Hope phases down and our program ends.”

The phase-down of will be completed by Feb. 28, and by then, the program is expected to ensure that local agencies understand the unique needs of those still suffering, and that those who need help know where to turn.

“Our goal as we phase down is to leave survivors with practical coping strategies, resource materials and strengthened community linkages,” Gnirke said.

Officials estimate that the crisis counseling program reached 400,000 people state-wide.

At a recent ceremony, Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano thanked employees and volunteers from YES Community Counseling Center of Massapequa for the work they performed as part of Project Hope.

“Through Project Hope, you helped 51,000 people in need, and met with an additional 27,000 people during group sessions,” said Mangano. “You went to the people—into their homes, or what was left of them. You listened to their heartache, you spoke with their children, and you counseled them on ways that they could move forward. I know, from speaking with many Sandy victims myself over the last 16 months, that that was no easy task. Today, we officially say farewell to Project Hope and thank all who were involved in this successful venture.”

Project Hope began with a FEMA grant that the county applied for two weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck. The funding allowed the county to fund counselors who helped storm victims with the emotional effects of the storm. Project Hope was overseen by the Nassau County Office of Mental Health & Chemical Dependency.

“It has been a difficult but gratifying year,” said Gnirke who came out of retirement from the New York State Office of Mental Health to serve as program director for the crisis counseling program. “Very simply put, a lot of good work has been done to help a lot of good people.”

Project Hope counselors provided one-to-one or group counseling in homes, schools, offices, community centers, places of worship and wherever else they were needed.

Though Hurricane Sandy was more than a year ago, Project Hope Coordinator Stephanie Tipping said that people were still coming to Project Hope for support and help. Counselors helped people work through emotional issues related to Sandy, and also pointed them toward helpful resources such as support groups. All services were free and confidential.

“We’re all about outreach, so much of what we do is out in the community,” said Tipping. “We go wherever we can to ensure that the community knows we’re available. And for families that are struggling, it makes a huge difference.”