Louisiana Spirit shares coping strategies with seniors

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 1, 2022

LAPLACE — Whistles and water bottles filled with Mardi Gras beads became tools to decrease stress as the Louisiana Spirit Crisis Counseling Team visited the East Bank Council on Aging Senior Center in Reserve on May 25.

Crisis counselors Veda Bailey, Eddie Sue Baham and Tyiece Howard, joined by resource linkage coordinators Edith Farlough, Lauren Owens and Pennie Kendricks, taught seniors how to use music and movement as coping mechanisms. Progressive muscle relaxation was also demonstrated to the seniors as a method of self-care.

Commonly referred to as Louisiana Spirit, the Louisiana Spirit Crisis Counseling Team has a mission to assist individuals and communities in recovering from the effects of disasters using free, community-based outreach and psycho-educational services. The group mobilized in the St. John Parish Community in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, and River Team Leader Matthew Muse said it is crucial to ensure these services reach the local senior population.

“Seniors are one of our most vulnerable populations. A lot of these individuals have children living in other places. A lot of their friends are in separate locations. Their social circle is smaller than it is for younger people. A lot of them are expressing that they feel forgotten about,” Muse said.

He added, “It’s important to reach those who have given so much. We have a lot of veterans, teachers, principals, counselors and retired attorneys here. They have given so much to the community, and the least we can do is take some time out of our day and get them moving, help them smile, laugh and dance, and let them know we are here for them.”

Louisiana Spirit has visited the Council on Aging each Wednesday for the past month to help seniors alleviate the stress of the Hurricane Ida rebuilding process. Crisis counselors and resource linkage coordinators have additionally assisted with handing out lunch and calling bingo.

Council on Aging staff member Gogi Laurent said the senior center in Reserve has been filled with life and laughter since reopening from Hurricane Ida in March 2022. Approximately 42 seniors have returned since the hurricane are enjoying bingo on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The month of May was filled with activities in recognition of Older Americans Month, and Laurent said the seniors have been receptive to Louisiana Spirit’s services.

“Every time they come, the seniors enjoy it. It’s something different. They show them how to de-stress, and the services they provide are free,” she said.

Virginia Gonzalez said she has enjoyed learning the exercises, which she can put into practice while at the Senior Center or at home.

“It’s very helpful, very informative, and they answer questions very gently to be understood. Some of the people here are up in their 90s, so consequently they have to be able to explain it to them on their level,” Gonzalez said.

Operated under the oversight of the Louisiana Department of Health/ Office of Behavioral Health, the Louisiana Spirit Counseling Program is mobilized only in the aftermath of a presidentially-declared disaster. Previous disasters have included Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Hurricane Isaac and the 2016 floods. Louisiana Spirit is funded through FEMA and administrated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Through short-term interventions, crisis counselors venture into disaster-impacted communities and provide public education about reactions and coping strategies, crisis counseling and stress management services. Benefits include helping survivors understand their current situation, reducing stress and providing emotional support, and promoting self-reliance through goal-setting, resilience building and coping skills.

These services can benefit local government staff, first responders, business owners, religious communities and other special populations.

The Louisiana Spirit Team also provided seniors at the Council on Aging with steps to take care of themselves after a disaster or a traumatic event.

These steps include caring for your body, taking breaks, connecting with others, staying informed and asking for help.

Seniors without close friends or family members nearby were advised to lean on the support system found at the Council on Aging. Support can also be found among clergy members, counselors, doctors, or by calling the Keep Calm Line at 866-310-7977.

According to Muse, the Louisiana Spirit River team hopes to reach more seniors in the region by expanding services to Council on Aging Senior Centers in St. James and St. Charles parishes. Louisiana Spirit will continue providing services in Reserve, as well as in Edgard, on a weekly basis.

The St. John Parish Council on Aging is open to residents ages 60 and older. For more information, call 985-479-0272.