Helping veterans in Seneca County

I read with great interest the article in the July 27th issue of the A-T, entitled, “Retreats Help First Responders Regroup From Stress.” Kudos to retired police officers Mike Yinger and Michael Pavolino who founded the nonprofit The Bridge in 2018 to help first responders deal with the critical incidents they meet during most shifts of duty. Little by little, but certainly not soon enough, police, fire and EMS departments across the state and nation are becoming aware that the old macho “Suck it up, buttercup” mentality no longer works — if it ever did. We are only too slowly acknowledging that paying attention to emotional and mental trauma is just as important as taking care of physical injuries. The human brain is impacted by critical incidents; this isn’t just in someone’s imagination, nor is it a sign of weakness. As we say in the world of critical incident stress management, ” This is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.” This is the way our brain and other vital organs function during severe stress.

Fortunately, a similar program/retreat as The Bridge is being offered right here is Seneca County. Operation Resilience began in November 2015. It is a 3 1/2 day program which was originally developed in Tampa, Florida. It consists of an educational component and group process. First responders learn the various degrees of stress and their impact on the brain. Professionals in various areas of expertise provide a “banquet” of coping mechanisms and ways of understanding what’s going on in us when critical incidents occur. A signed confidentiality agreement and a serene environment provide peers the right conditions to talk safely about their experiences with others who know their world “from the inside.” Operation Resilience is not professional counseling; it is led by two individuals, one of whom is always a first responder, and both of whom are certified in Critical Incident Stress Management. Unlike The Bridge which deals with large numbers of first responders, Operation Resilience accepts only 6 people for each program. Over the course of the 3 1/2 day program the participants typically develop a wonderful camaraderie and leave refreshed and renewed in their chosen profession with a full “tool kit” to employ in future critical incidents. A follow-up phone contact is conducted a week after completion and again 3 months later. As a retired police chief recently remarked, “It’s a transformative experience!”

This program is offered at St. Francis Spirituality Center on the serene St. Francis Campus, where home-cooked meals and comfortable lodging are also provided. Thanks to generous grants from the Patriot Day Salute Fund and the St. Francis Grant Fund, this training program/retreat is being offered entirely free of charge for as long as the funds last. The next program will be held October 31st -November 3rd. Interested individuals can learn more at www.franciscanretreats.org under “First Responders” or by calling 419-443-1485 to request an application form.

Sister Edna Michel