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'A roadmap for how to respond to and provide funding for addressing collective traumas': A commentary by Stephanie Berkowitz

September 09, 2021

Headshot_Stephanie_Berkowitz_2_NVFSTwenty years after 9/11: Prioritizing trauma-informed mental health care

Twenty years after the September 11 attacks, lessons from that experience continue to inform the most effective ways to provide mental health support to individuals, families, and communities in crisis. At the same time, new lessons have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing demand for racial justice. Together, these insights provide a roadmap for how to respond to and provide funding for addressing collective traumas for families as diverse as refugees arriving in this country from Afghanistan to those displaced by hurricanes. 

In 2001, the Greater Washington Community Foundation tapped Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS) to provide trauma recovery services to survivors of the attack on the Pentagon. The September 11 Survivors' Fund was intentionally set up to be flexible and broadly focused. While we provided services to survivors most obviously impacted — those who were physically injured in the attack — we also supported a flight attendant who lost colleagues on the plane that flew into the Pentagon, a firefighter who saw the unimaginable and chose to change professions, and anguished family members who lost loved ones, among others. In all, the $25 million fund helped 1,051 people.

Years later, we learned of a group of construction workers from El Salvador who participated in clean-up efforts at the Pentagon but did not receive Survivors' Fund services. Only then did we recognize a significant shortcoming on our part. Since then, we have come to understand that targeted outreach to underserved populations in multiple languages by professionals with fluency in a variety of cultural traditions is the most effective way to reach neighbors who are frequently overlooked and disproportionately impacted by communitywide crises....

Read the full commentary by Stephanie Berkowitz, president and CEO of Northern Virginia Family Service.

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