Project Hope Field Coordinator Mike Bigley talks with Gretch Sando, program coordinator for Project Hope Clinton/Essex.
A little more than six months after Tropical Storm Irene hit the region, the impact on the residents is still coming to the surface.
The physical damage to homes and the countryside can be seen from the car on Route 9N or by taking a walk through the town of Keene in Essex County, but the emotional damage to residents can be harder to see. To help those suffering, Project Hope workers have been going door to door and want residents to know they are here to help.
Project Hope is a crisis counseling program created by New York state to help in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. Services are provided through the Mental Health Association in Essex County Inc. This community‐based outreach program funded through the state Office of Mental Health is available free of charge to residents of Clinton and Essex counties who were impacted by Tropical Storm Irene.
On April 5, Project Hope Field Coordinator Mike Bigley visited Keene, Au Sable Forks, Plattsburgh, Altona, and surrounding area to hear from town supervisors, emergency officials, and highway departments their perspective on the current state of area residents and what can be done for those still suffering as a result of Irene.
"Recovery is not over yet, if you were here on Aug. 28, you were impacted,” Steve Valley, director of Essex County Mental Health Services, said. “People here have constant reminders of Irene seeing the empty homes along Route 9 and from trying to clean up their own homes.”
Bigley said those in the North Country are strong, resilient, independent, proud people who have gone as long as possible without asking for help. One of the stressors for the area residents now find themselves needing services they have never needed before.
“We will continue to stay here for the folks who maybe thought they were doing well,” said Gretch Sando, program coordinator for Project Hope Clinton/Essex. “It may now be hitting them they need help, and that’s what we’re here for.”
Bigley said the offices are seeing 70 percent more people in need of services now than they did right after Irene hit the region on Aug. 28.
“The good news is people still made it and weren’t affected,” Bigley said. “The bad news is people (in the area) are still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.”
Jay Town Supervisor Randy Douglas and Keene Town Supervisor Bill Ferebee shared their experiences during the tropical storm and said where the most need in their communities still lie.
“Our residents, their lives are turned upside down. They are still reaching out for help,” Douglas said.
The program will run at least through the one-year anniversary of Irene. Ferebee said he hopes anyone out there in need of the services offered takes advantage of the assistance.
“We have a strong community and no one wants to ask for help its just the way they are they’re tough,” Ferebee said. “If you see someone who needs assistance, let us know and we’ll try to help them.”
Throughout the North Country, Irene affected parts of the region differently. Within a 20-mile area, Sando said one place could be completely untouched while farther down the road the area is devastated.
“My concern is if you live in the area that didn’t experience or sustain any damage, they can’t understand,” Sando said. “It’s not over. There are still people who are displaced and there are still people who have lost all their belongings and there are emotional impacts that are ongoing, and we will continue to be here and help those people in any way we can.”
Project Hope will continue to go door to door and hold informational meetings for the public until after the one year anniversary of Irene. For more information on the upcoming events, visit online at ProjectHope.org or call 524-9616.