Pacific College New York Brings Healing to Superstorm Sandy Survivors

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Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, was classified as a Category 2 storm at its peak intensity when it hit the East Coast of the United States in late October 2012. Over the course of one week, Sandy devastated portions of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S, also impacting Southeastern and Midwestern states and Eastern Canada. Sandy’s winds spanned 1,100 miles, and this hurricane is estimated to be the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane on record, behind Hurricane Katrina. Sandy was deadly, and 253 people lost their lives. Due to the severe and widespread damage of the storm, combined with its unusual composition, it has been termed “Superstorm Sandy”.

The Pacific College of Oriental Medicine New York campus was in Sandy’s path. Due to loss of power and damage in the surrounding area, the campus was closed for a week. This caused a great deal of stress for students, staff, and faculty who not only had to make up for lost work and class time—but who were already experiencing the complete upheaval of the storm. Much of the tri-state area came to a standstill as power was out and public transportation came to a halt due to flooded subway tunnels, damaged equipment, etc.  A good number of students, staff, and faculty lost their homes or suffered significant damage, and some lost friends or family members as well.  Many community members became ill as the temperature dropped and power remained out in some areas for close to three weeks.

In the aftermarth of Superstorm Sandy this past November, Pacific College New York took an active role in helping whereever possible. Acupuncturists and massage therapists throughout the tri-state area came together to provide much-needed relief to the survivors of the storm, first responders, and shaken community members. Much as it has in the past in the aftermath of chaos, such as post 9/11, after the 2007 Southern California wildfires, and the 2010 Joplin Tornado, Pacific College wanted to give back to those affected by tragedy.

The first order of business, once the college re-opened, was to assess the damage and locate all members of the Pacific College community. Many were unable to get in to the school due to loss of transportation.  Faculty reported all students who were missing from classes, and the college reception staff searched for missing students. Within a couple of weeks the staff were able to locate each of the students and determine what type of assistance they might need, whether it meant replacement textbooks, children’s clothing, or temporary housing. Everyone stepped in to help. Malcolm Youngren, New York campus director, cancelled his plans to attend the Pacific Symposium in San Diego (where senior staff from all three  campuses meet annually) in order to remain in New York during the immediate aftermath of the storm.

Student Council members set up bulletin boards, both through social media and at the college to help determine who needed what and who was available to help. People posted comments such as, “I need a place to stay until I find a new home”; “I need a babysitter during evening classes; my regular babysitter can’t get to where I live in New Jersey”; “Does anyone have a winter jacket size medium?”; and “I have a couch someone can sleep on.”

Knowing that sometimes simple comforts can go a long way, the Student Council provided an All Day Pancake Breakfast Brigade. This was the first hot, homecooked meal for many since before the storm, and spirits were raised. PIC Here.

The Pacific College San Diego community pitched in, too. Staff members took action and a  donation was made toward Superstorm Sandy relief. This money went toward supplies. Back in New York, many students and graduates, along with teams of able-bodied New Yorkers, volunteered in the most hard hit areas to distribute supplies and assist with cleaning up the wreckage. Pacific College Alumna Manna Lu-Wong tells about her personal experience:

“We were loading and unloading most of the  morning,” she said, “Donations came by the truck loads, some from as far as Maryland. We unloaded two truck loads of supplies.  We saw an 85-year-old woman carrying a supply of toilet paper…We loaded up a wheelbarrow of cleaning supplies and walked her to her home... Inside, it was gutted, no walls, no installations, no light. She only had a table and TV, no eletricity. The water flooded her basement and first floor; the wood on the floor was still damp. After we unloaded, she hugged us, gave a kiss and a prayer. It will take a long time to recover. I will never forget the strength in people and compassion in action.”

Pacific College alumni like Lu-Wong teamed up with Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB), an organization that provides relief to communities in times of trauma, to provide free acupuncture treatments to disaster medical teams by request from the US Surgeon General’s Office. (INSERT PIC)

Pacific College Massage students provided relief to Disaster medical teams as well.  “When responding to a disaster, a little time out for self and relaxation is key to long-term effectiveness,” said a Health and Human Services staff member.“This was a welcomed respite.” Another Disaster medical assistance team member added, “After a long and stressful deployment, this was what I needed to relax my tired muscles. I would recommend this therapy to anyone who needs a stress release.” 

One massage recipient commented, “I have not had a day off in 30 days. I work for FEMA in support of hurricane Sandy Logistics. And on my only day off, to have this treatment to my body was a huge stress reliever.”

Pacific College Alumna Julie Cho worked on an AWB project aiding in relief efforts in Manhattan and Queens, NY. One of Cho’s acupuncture recipients wrote the following:

"After several days without heat or electricity from hurricane Sandy and several friends whose homes were flooded under seven feet of water, my heart was heavy with grief and burden. When I saw AWB, my heart leapt and I felt tears of joy. The treatment was an oasis in the desert of darkness, desperation and traumas we were feeling. I sat down next to a friend who is a fellow PTSD survivor from before and immediately we laughed with relief knowing things would get better."

Overall, Pacific College provided more than 400 free acupuncture and massage treatments at the college for the surrounding community. Pacific College also supported acupuncturists like Cho and organizations like AWB and Community Re-Education and Re-Building Through Education and Wellness (CRREW) in setting up and supplying free acupuncture clinics in multiple locations throughout New York and New Jersey. 

Wendy Henry, one of the founding members of CRREW, described how the acupuncture clinics were organized: “At a site in Far Rockaway, we had a small crowd gather round us and taught them how to place the reverse Shen Men auricular point for calming.  CRREW members established sites to offer the NADA protocol [ear acupuncture] and other holistic treatments and lessons.”

Henry, who is continuing in the relief efforts, noted, “The work is growing and we are collaborating with other groups. Being part of this effort has touched me deeply. I know some of the places from childhood and at relief sites have bumped into people I know who lost their homes. There is not much one can do, yet I know from years of experience the value of receiving acupuncture in a group and just being present.”

A community-wide disaster can traumatize most everyone in a community, even those who have not experienced direct losses. The effects of trauma can manifest as difficulty sleeping, eating well, communicating, and managing daily life tasks, and many survivors may feel extremely anxious, irritable, or sad. The profound trauma experience can keep communities from rebuilding as effectively as they otherwise could. Although counseling and talk therapy are important, healing methods like acupuncture serve a unique complementary role in addressing the physiological trauma response, which can become locked in the body.

“Because it is non-narcotic, inexpensive, safe, effective, and doesn’t require the clients to talk about their feelings at at a time when verbalizing may be difficult, acupuncture is becoming more and more popular as a treatment,” explains Youngren. Community-style acupuncture treatments allow large numbers of people to heal together in a group setting that doesn’t require them to talk about their experience, but allows each individual to simply “be” and regain some semblance of normalcy in their body, with a technique that is fast, low-cost, low-tech, and easy to set up.

Acupuncture has been used successfully to treat traumatized populations in the days and months following the 9/11 attacks, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in New Orleans, in the Iowa floods, wildfires in California, the Haiti earthquakes, and shootings in Colorado, among other traumatic events.  Pacific College alumni recently worked with The Connecticut Society for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in an effort to provide stress relief treatments to the community in the wake of the Newtown school massacre.

The free treatments for the community after Hurricane Sandy were part of a larger outreach effort at Pacific College’s New York campus. During this past year, the college provided over 1,700 free treatments and donated over $40,000 worth of free services. 2013 is Pacific College New York’s 20th anniversary and the volunteer opportunities are beginning right away with nine free on-site acupuncture clinics already planned for the winter semester. To find out more information on the upcoming clinics click here. (insert Link)

Check out a video featuring Pacific College’s free on-site acupuncture clinics during Superstorm Sandy here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMU121PwE0c.

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