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Project Gives Victims Hope

It has been more than a year since Hurricane Sandy left her none-too-subtle mark upon the east coast, and many people have since put it behind them and moved on; however, for a surprising number of local residents, there is a painful, constant daily reminder of what the Superstorm took from them.

“It’s major point of frustration for so many people who still aren’t back in their houses,” said Jennifer DeMieri, Project Coordinator for Project Hope with YES Community Counseling Center. “They just feel forgotten about or not understood...that the rest of the world has gone on and they haven’t, and they’re still fighting each and every day with their insurance companies of FEMA or what have you to get back their normal, pre-Sandy life.”

Project Hope is a Federally-funded program through FEMA, which provided a grant to YES Community Counseling Center to help people deal with the stresses and hardships; the program started on Jan. 1 of 2013, a few months after Sandy trampled its way through Massapequa and Seaford. Shortly after FEMA provided the grant money for the program, the Project Hope representatives beat the streets looking for those hit hardest by the dreaded superstorm, DeMieri said.

“We’ve been providing crisis counseling for individuals and families who have been affected by Sandy,” she said. “Our crisis counselors have been literally door-to-door in the community, working with families to try them on their path to recovery from the storm, offering both individual and group counseling.”

Susanne Smoller, Team Leader for Project Hope at YES, said that she and her fellow counselors combed the hardest-hit areas of Massapequa and Seaford; and while getting to those suffering from Sandy’s passing wasn’t always easy, almost every home we went to people needed their help, she said.

“We went to very single house south of Sunrise Highway, and even some houses north as well,” she said. “Some of the homes were vacant, abandoned, and in some cases you couldn’t even get to the door because sinkholes were forming, so we had to be careful. And in addition, we also had people in the malls, libraries, hotels, and FEMA location. We did everything we could to find people who needed help and to get the word out.”

Project Hope is a free and confidential program; depending on the mobility of those looking to engage their services, counselors can work with afflicted residents at their homes, the YES offices, or anywhere in-between, including locations such as either branch of the Massapequa Public Library.

In addition, local business owners who are still undergoing hardship due to Sandy are also eligible for Project Hope assistance, DeMieri said.

“We’re teaching them to cope their anxieties and providing strategies really empower themselves,” she said. “Whether it’s advocating for themselves when it comes to dealing with their insurance companies, or to learn problem-solving and setting priorities; there are so many positive things people can do...there are so many things that you can’t control, so we focus on what you CAN control.”

“Life is difficult to begin with,” DeMieri added. “Throw a hurricane in there, and these people are really having a difficult time. They just want their lives back.”

Smoller said that the strength of the people of the Massapequa and Seaford really shined through despite the terrible toil and hardships they were put under; it was something she and her team found supremely inspirational, she said.

“The community was wonderful,” she said. “They were so grateful to see us out there...they were worried about us walking around out in the cold, but that’s the community of Massapequa and Seaford. They’re more worried about everyone else than themselves. The resiliently of this community...they were out there helping their neighbors throughout their own misfortunes.”

Project Hope will run their services through January; as of the first week of February, YES will be taking over and offering mental health counseling for families who were affected by Superstrom Sandy.

For more information on Project Hope, visit the YES Community Counseling Center’s website at or call 516-799-3203.