Chai Lifeline Lakewood, the community organization dedicated to providing emotional and social support to families in the midst of illness, loss, or crisis, recently bolstered the community’s team of crisis intervention para-professionals. Working with Project CHAI, Chai Lifeline’s crisis intervention arm, Chai Lifeline Lakewood trained close to 100 mechanchim, menhalim, menhalos, askanim, and members of Bikur Cholim, Hatzolah, and Misaskim in how to effectively respond to primary and secondary crisis situations.
Led by Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, a clinical psychologist, Rov of the Hancock Park Hashkama Minyan, and director of clinical interventions and community education for Project CHAI, the effort significantly expanded the pool of mechanchim and volunteers qualified to respond to medical crises and untimely passings within the community.
“Project CHAI has been part of Lakewood’s crisis intervention effort for more than a decade,” explained Rabbi Dr. Fox. “There was a feeling within the group that a refresher course with additional clinical information and an opportunity to practice implementation would both make existing para-professionals more effective and introduce new volunteers to the work of Project CHAI and Chai Lifeline.”
Previous trainings received the haskama of the Mashgiach, HaRav Matisyahu Salomon, shlita.
The three part training mixed theory and practice and incorporated time for role play and discussion. Dr. Fox led the first two sessions, provided instruction in assessing situations and understanding the fundamentals of crisis intervention. The final week was like a “crisis primer,” where participants practiced how to respond to and comfort those caught in a number of crisis scenarios. Rabbi Sruli Fried, LMSW, director of Chai Lifeline Lakewood, instructed the men, while Mrs. Bina Sussman, case manager for Chai Lifeline Lakewood, provided guidance to the women.
“The training is very intense. There’s a tremendous amount of material that gets covered,” stressed Dr. Fox. The curriculum includes instruction for interventions in camp, school, and community environments, and also provides a thorough grounding in the emotional and psychological issues surrounding crisis.
“All our first responders come away with knowledge and practical advice about how to work within multiple environments and in different scenarios. But a big part of the training is understanding the school setting, the dynamics of the community, and how we effectively come together as a team in schools and other environments,” stated Rabbi Fried.
Rabbi Usher Lederer, principal of the Yeshiva Ketana in Lakewood, is a member of Project CHAI in Lakewood. “As someone who unfortunately has been involved in Project CHAI too many times, I see the critical value of its work in making sure that we work as a team within the kehilla,” he said.
Noted rav and mechanech Rabbi Michel Handelsman, who graciously provided an introduction to the first training session, noted its importance for the community. “The right word can make tza’ar bearable,” he told the group.
“Hundreds of people in our community have already benefited from the expertise and compassion of Lakewood’s Project CHAI-trained response team. As the community grows, the team had to grow as well. We now have people in place who can respond instantly,” added Rabbi Mordechai Gobioff, Chai Lifeline’s director of client services, national.
Mrs. Sussman noted that almost every school in Lakewood was represented in the training sessions. “The kehilla is growing so fast. New schools open every year. We saw many fresh faces, as this was a chance for principals, administrators, and teachers to learn the basics or refresh their skills.”
Rabbi Simcha Scholar, Chai Lifeline’s executive vice president, commended the community for understanding the need for continuing education of its growing group of first responders. “The nature of crisis is that we never know when it will happen. Having a knowledgeable group trained by Chai Lifeline and Project CHAI within the kehilla assures that help is available immediately.”