You Can’t Always Judge A Book By Its Cover

Written by Alexa Evans*, VIP-BOLD Initiative Intern. May 16, 2014

Last week we visited the Children’s Health Fund (CHF) mobile clinic unit in Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn. Gerritsen Beach is an area that was severely affected by Hurricane Sandy, and CHF provides mental health services for the residents of the area. The organization began over 25 years ago, focusing on family and children in shelters who did not receive consistent healthcare. They expanded into disaster response as well, and even traveled in the same mobile unit to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They provide several services in relation to their focus on the emotional and psychological needs of the community, including resilience training, coping kits, and play threapy with the children.  Services are also offered for parents, who can suggest and request groups for their specific needs, such as having children with behavioral problems or mental health diagnoses. However, anyone can obtain services from CFH, regardless of their family dynamics. The organization always looks for opportunities to perform outreach and take their services wherever the people are located. For example, they have provided mental health groups at the local senior center and Family Fun Days at schools. Finally, they have established relationships in the community, such that they are able to make referrals to other organizations and institutions.

Learning about the demographics in the Gerritsen Beach area of Brooklyn was very interesting. It began as a summer resort location for lower-income individuals and is traditionally an Irish-Catholic, blue collar community. It is now a bit more mixed and tolerant, but there is still some bigotry and prejudice to be found in the community. Many people may associate whiteness with privilege, and white privilege certainly is very real. However, the residents of this community still face issues and hardships. For example, about 30% of the community lived at or below the poverty level before the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Because of the storm, that number has probably risen. Furthermore, alcoholism is prevalent in the community. One of the biggest problems I noted, however, was the lack of open communication and comprehensive education. There is little acceptance of the existence of mental health issues or HIV/AIDS, which can lead community members to forego the services that can potentially be life-saving. Furthermore, public discussion about healthy sexuality is largely focused on abstinence rather than the use of contraception. This is unfortunate, because HIV is a reality in Gerritsen Beach. For the zip code of 11229, in which it falls, there were 187 cases of the virus in 2010. This site visit really highlighted the importance of getting to know individuals and communities before forming conclusions. You cannot always judge a book by its cover.

* This report reflects being written based upon an interview of CHF social worker Linda Rizzoto, who is also a local resident of Gerritsen Beach

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