Grant to aid center's efforts to counsel evacuees

Monday, October 24, 2005

Cape Girardeau therapists are reaching out to Hurricane Katrina evacuees as part of a grant received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Community Counseling Center in Cape Girardeau received a phase-one grant of $34,000 that provides initial-response aid for up to two months after the hurricane. They were notified of the approval two weeks ago and funding will continue until Nov. 6.

Basically, the grant will reimburse the center for all the free services it provided Hurricane Katrina victims

"What we did before was when people came to us for help, we helped them. We did not know that we were going to be reimbursed," said Tim Schwent, director of administration and finance.

Now, instead of waiting for people to walk through their door, the center is able to send therapists directly into the community to offer counseling. They will contact evacuees who are staying in hotels, with families and in apartments. They have cooperated with faith-based ministries, the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross and schools.

Since Aug. 29, clinical therapist Charlie Harrison has stayed busy by counseling evacuees. Many evacuees have not sought counseling.

"People have a stigma about mental health services," Harrison said, "and we want to help them feel that it's OK and to help them normalize their feelings."

Though it has been nearly two months since the hurricane struck, she still encounters people who suffer from sleep problems, anxiety, disconnection and a sense of being overwhelmed. Stress often causes frustration, limited attention span, headache and stomach problems and cold or flu-like symptoms. Several people have resorted to drug and alcohol addictions to cope with stress.

Self-pampering is a healthier way to cope, Harrison said. Take a warm bath, listen to soft music and play with a dog.

"At the end of the day, you've got to go home and take care of yourself," she said.

Harrison attended a one-day training session in Jefferson City, Mo., to better understand what additional services the center can provide as a result of the grant.

If FEMA offers a phase-two grant, the center will likely apply for it, Schwent said. The center covers the counties of Cape Girardeau, Perry, Bollinger, Madison and Ste. Genevieve. Bootheel Counseling Services in Kennett, Mo., received grant funding to cover its counties, including Scott County.

jmetelski@semissourian.com

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