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Project Aimed at Healing After the COVID Crisis

Submitted by on November 5, 2021 – 5:50 pm

When fall semester started at Northern Essex, many students, staff and faculty were eager to get back to interacting in person; at least 25% of classes were meeting face-to-face, clubs and activities welcomed new members, and many employees returned to the office. But as life on campus started to resume, despite the excitement, there was also a sense of unease.

Dr Stephen Valle standing smiling outside of parliament in London

Dr. Stephen K. Valle addressed Parliament regarding prison reform and addiction issues in the United Kingdom.

“There seems to be an expectation that things would be normal. We didn’t take into account that we’d lost connections, didn’t have enough time to heal,” says Gabriel Garcia, NECC’s mental health clinician.

With that in mind, the NECC Covid Response Team has launched a new initiative called the “We’re Listening Project.” The goal is to provide connections for anyone in the Northern Essex community grappling with the COVID crisis and the effects it has had on the mind and body.

The first installment was a webinar with Dr. Stephen K Valle. Valle is president & CEO of Valle Management Associates, a human resource development firm based in Boston & Marco Island FL, and is a recognized leader and an international expert in the addiction, criminal justice, and mental health fields. He compared the mental health crisis brought on by the pandemic to what he saw immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Valle met with American Airline flight crews and employees at Logan Airport that day, who had just learned of the attacks and the loss of their colleagues. “The uncertainty and fear of the unknown permeated every corner of that airport,” he recalled. He says the approach to healing following the pandemic is similar. “The secret on how to best approach a crisis is in connection with your peers. Students to students, faculty to faculty, staff to staff. Your peers are how you get out of this pandemic. The goal is to create a culture of caring and support.”

Student Government president Iseline Mendoza shared how that culture has already made a difference in her life. She reached out to NECC counseling services when she was feeling “off.” Together, they worked to address her mental health needs. “I feel safe to express when I’m not feeling myself. That safety takes away the guilt. I know I have a team behind me. Sometimes all it takes for someone to notice, at NECC I really feel seen.”

The “We’re Listening Project” continues to evolve and will likely include more workshops, focus groups and peer-to-peer discussions. “As we move forward, we’ll tap into that natural creativity and sense of caring that is already so strong in the college community,” explains Dr. Valle. In the meantime, he has provided a guide called “The 12 Step Plan to Managing Crisis Fatigue & the Stress of an Ongoing Pandemic” which can be found on NECC’s Coronavirus information webpage.

Northern Essex also provides a wide range of free and confidential counseling services. Professional staff provide short-term individual counseling, as well as proactive prevention, education, and consultation across campus. They can assist during crisis situations and are a resource for referrals to both on-campus and community support services. Currently, they offer in-person and virtual sessions. Learn more by visiting the counseling services webpage.

If you would like to be involved in the planning and evolution of the “We’re Listening Project,” contact COVID Response Team members Marissa Elliot or Rosanna Lara.