EMU program helps people deal with traumas

Story by Jim Bishop

A post-9/11 program to help survivors of trauma has enabled some 7,000 people to discover sources of resilience in the aftermath of attacks of all kinds over the last six years.

“When personal trauma is not healed, aggression and increased violence may be the result,” says Virginia Foley, the widow of a U.S. government official who was assassinated in Jordan in 2002. “This is true of societies as well as individuals.”

Foley credits STAR – an acronym for Strategies in Trauma Awareness and Resilience – for giving her a “remarkable experience” in developing the perspective she needs to deal with her tragedy and to help others.

Previously, “I was unprepared with the onslaught of trauma I received on every level.”

In addition to meeting the needs of 5,000 caregivers and religious leaders from New York City in the year immediately following 9/11, STAR has expanded to address new trauma situations, such as those caused by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, and those caused by social dislocation, such as experienced by refugees in camps around the world.

STAR emerged after Church World Service, based in New York City, received a flood of financial contributions in the wake of the terrorist attacks on U.S. targets on Sept. 11, 2001.

Coincidentally, on the same 9/11 date, Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia was inaugurating its Practice Institute. The Institute aimed to find better ways of applying the lessons learned by academics and their students in studying violence prevention, trauma healing, security, restorative justice and conflict transformation.

Church World Service partnered with EMU, giving its Practice Institute a $1 million grant to develop STAR as a faith-based approach to trauma healing and resilience. By February 2002, STAR began offering its seminars to New Yorkers of all faiths and cultures.

For the first year, participants traveled to the pastoral campus of EMU in the Shenandoah Valley to take STAR, but in October 2003, a New York office of STAR opened.

“STAR is based on the recognition that when large tragic events occur, entire societies are affected,” said Jan Jenner, director of the Practice Institute. “STAR helps people learn strategies that promote healing and security, revitalize their community and stop cycles of victim-hood and violence.”

STAR participants in the New York City area have included family members of the deceased; rescue, recovery and construction workers; union leaders and members; mental-health providers; municipal health employees; educational community members, including school personnel and parents; leaders of multiple faith communities; disaster responders; and youth and senior populations.

In July, the three principals behind STAR in New York City — Ruth Wenger, Brenda Boyd-Bell and Jackie Womack – moved from their parent organization of EMU to begin working through other organizations. The home office of STAR in Harrisonburg will continue its STAR trainings on the EMU campus, as well as on a visiting basis in other locations in the U.S. and world.

EMU’s STAR now includes Youth STAR, which provides training and materials for school and youth workers. EMU also plans to address the needs of returning veterans and their caregivers.

Church World Service – which set STAR in motion and helped guide it to success with a total of $3 million in seed money – is the relief, development, and refugee assistance ministry of 35 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations. In the U.S. and more than 80 other countries, Church World Service works to meet human needs, including responding to disasters.

“CWS showed broad and enduring vision in seeing the need for STAR after 9/11 and providing the necessary funding to bring it to life and enable it to serve thousands,” said Jenner. “These thousands have, in turn, taken the lessons of STAR to the communities they serve, permitting a huge ripple effect. From the evaluations we have received, STAR has lessened the damage of both individual and society-wide trauma.”

Jim Bishop is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press.

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