During the coronavirus pandemic, organizations across the Army have adapted to different ways of doing business. At Fort Drum, the Army Substance Abuse Program, Family Advocacy Program and Employee Assistance Program staffs have combined efforts to keep the community aware, educated and assured that help is available. (Graphic by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
Fort Drum organization staffs ‘up their game’
to connect with community during COVID-19
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 20, 2020) – With everything going virtual, online and physically distanced due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, organizations across the Army have adapted to different ways of doing business.
At Fort Drum, the Army Substance Abuse Program, Family Advocacy Program and Employee Assistance Program staffs have combined efforts to keep the community aware, educated and assured that help is available.
“Our main message is that we’re still here and we’re still connected to the community if anyone needs to reach out to us,” said Amanda Mason, ASAP Prevention Branch chief. “We’re all going through this together – and we will get through this together – but right now that just means the ways we support one another are going to be a little different than normal.”
One way they are doing this is by reaching out on social media. FAP educators host a roundtable discussion called Quarantine Quoffee Quorner at www.facebook.com/FTdrumFAP, which has covered topics such as stress, working from home and communication.
“In short, this is our way of staying in touch with the community and our followers online,” said Derrick Ellis, FAP manager. “We want the community to know we are still here, we are aware of the challenges and stressors, and we want to provide families with some healthy outlets and support.”
Ellis said that the online chat was the educators’ idea for staying connected with the community.
“We had discussed creating short videos, but really we wanted to focus on keeping things real and light, throw in some education without having a ‘standard’ class,” he said. “ASAP also had units reach out to us to request life skills videos that they can share on social media.”
The four educators in the videos is the team that normally provides troop training and FAP courses for family members. Ellis said now they are all experiencing the same at-home struggles as everyone else, and that provides a lot of content to talk about in the videos.
Mason said that there is a lot of cross-communication among ASAP, FAP and EAP – probably now more than before – to reach a wider audience.
“We’ve always shared each other’s posts before, but probably not to this extent,” she said. “It’s so important that we connect with as many people as possible now. I think the toughest challenge is trying to get to everyone that we want to reach, but unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to how can we get there.”
Mason said that is why they are working with many organizations and programs across post to share the information. April, in particular, is a time when such collaboration is prevalent because of national campaigns for Month of the Military Child, Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and Alcohol Awareness Month.
“Normally, we all would partner together to host these different events on post, but that’s just not possible now,” she said. “So, we are working on creative ways we can still get the information out to the community throughout the month of April. Hopefully, everyone will help spread the knowledge.”
Ellis said that the community can help recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month by supporting the “Blue Up” campaign throughout April.
“We are asking the community to build or draw something with a blue theme, and then share your support on our Facebook page,” he said.
Ellis said that people can use washable blue paint and decorate a window, hang blue lights outside, make blue pinwheels for the yard, to name a few ideas.
All areas of the Family Advocacy Program have remained active during the pandemic and are accessible to community members. In addition to increasing FAP’s social media presence, Ellis said that educators are contributing to the weekly prevention bulletin, communication with command teams about resources and support, and they are updating prevention curriculum.
“The New Parent Support Program Home Visitors are still maintaining their current cases – providing phone visits and check-ins,” Ellis said. “This seems to be working just fine. The Victim Advocates are covering the 24/7 hotline and ensuring clients are safe and healthy.”
The ASAP staff sends out a weekly email blast to the Fort Drum workforce that contains an updated list of resources and phone numbers. It also includes the Wellness Wednesday newsletter, which has information about behavioral health services, domestic violence and substance abuse resources.
Mason said that they had previously released a monthly “Ready Now” bulletin before the pandemic that featured the post’s prevention programs.
“It was primarily developed so that company command teams could pull information from that to talk about during their safety briefs,” she said. “But since COVID-19 hit us, we thought we needed to up our game and put out a weekly prevention newsletter.”
Each issue highlights different challenges people may be facing during the pandemic. Topics have included coping with stress, anxiety and panic attacks, arranging a date night while in quarantine, and reporting child abuse.
Households across the nation are still adjusting to spending more time together for longer periods of time. With that, Mason said there is anticipation of rising numbers of alcohol, child abuse and domestic violence incidents.
“Right now, that’s not happening, but we still want to make sure people know all the resources that are available to them now,” she said. “Those three areas are within our purview, so those are what we focus on mostly with the wellness bulletin.”
Mason also said that they are coordinating with 10th Mountain Division (LI) units to conduct virtual training on suicide awareness and prevention.
“I sat in on one of the training sessions online and it went really well,” she said. “One of our educators, Bill VanOrman, took the lead on facilitating it, and this unit was really interactive in the training. The unit’s commander specifically asked for quarterly training for the Soldiers and, even now, they still wanted to make sure they were getting it this quarter.”
The training includes instructional videos from Dr. Todd Benham, Fort Drum Behavioral Health director, followed by discussion and Q&A.
“I thought it was a great way for us to still be out there and educating people, and we’re still kind of experimenting with it,” she said.
They are working to engage more troops and offer additional training options.
Christine Robinson, ASAP’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) coordinator, is responsible for the monthly two-page EAP newsletter for the civilian workforce, retirees and family members. She started it in December 2019, and topics have included seasonal affective disorder, the Civilian Fitness Program and mindfulness.
“All of the newsletters have a schedule of workshops and classes being held at ASAP that people can contact me to enroll in,” Robinson said. “April’s initial issue was going to be about managing conflict in the workplace. After the pandemic hit the news and really started affecting how we were going about our daily activities, I changed the topic to ‘Coping with Anxiety in a Time of Pandemic’ and made this a special March/April Issue.”
Now she creates a weekly edition that focuses on pandemic-related issues, many of which she is experiencing while working from home with two children and a husband whose job still requires him to report to work every day.
“I give tons of kudos to all the stay-at-home moms, because it is definitely a thankless job,” Robinson said.
Robinson said that she struggled a bit trying to manage office work and a household, and she found it helpful to talk about her concerns with someone.
“That is why a lot of my posts on the ASAP page is geared toward reaching out and talking to someone about how things are actually going, whether you are still working or at home,” she said.
Robinson said that people are just starting to realize that she is still accessible by phone (315) 772-2597 or email (email@example.com). She said that she supports the civilian workforce, but also their family members.
“I am also available to retirees and their family members,” she added. “Even though my title is Employee Assistance Program coordinator, I can provide short-term counseling, crisis intervention and other resources.”
Robinson said that she is also reaching out to those who might need support, especially medical and child care professionals who are dealing with workplace stress.
“Workplace stress is still an issue, except for now instead of stress caused by conflict in the workplace, it’s just an all-over feeling of safety and the feeling of uncertainty about how long this will go on,” she said.
Like most people, Robinson is holding onto hope that she will be able to return to the office soon, where she could resume services in a less virtual environment. She was looking forward to hosting her first Mindful Time Out group in May – a monthly informal coffee talk to start off the work day. She also had scheduled a Stone Art Therapy session to alleviate stress.
“I painted one of our meeting rooms and made it my EAP Wellness room,” Robinson said. “I started using it for the stone art therapy I do, but now I want to use it for pretty much anything related to wellness and relaxation.”
In the meantime, Robinson encourages people to contact her if they need help – all calls are confidential – and to visit www.facebook.com/FortDrumASAP for informational videos, practical advice and program updates. Ellis also asked that community members have a copy of the Virtual Family Assistance Center contact list that has been circulating on social media and at www.home.army.mil/drum in their home, so family members know how to access critical services on post.
“Families are isolated and out of their everyday routines, and there are new stressors that a lot of us have never experienced before,” he said. “We want to remind all families that this is new territory for each of us, and we are in this together. We are aware of the challenges and the stressors, and we want to provide families with some healthy outlets and support.”