Projects

Faith community preparedness and resilience project

Abstract

The purpose of this project is to develop a pastoral care and mental health partnership that will promote community resiliency by equipping religious leaders and mental health providers in the Mississippi Gulf Coast for potential coastal hazards and climate associated risks (e.g., hurricanes). The objectives of the project are to: (1) Improve religious leaders’ and mental health providers’ capability to prepare for and respond to coastal hazards; (2) Enhance religious leaders’ and mental health providers’ network and infrastructure for coastal hazard preparedness and response; and (3) increase community coastal hazard awareness and resiliency. These goals will be addressed through the development of a mental health summit, learning collaborative, hurricane preparedness fair, and outreach/education plan.

Objectives

The objectives for the project are: (1) Improve religious leaders’ and mental health providers’ capability to prepare for and respond to coastal hazards; (2) Enhance religious leaders’ and mental health providers’ network and infrastructure for coastal hazard preparedness and response; and (3) increase community coastal hazard awareness and resiliency

Methodology

This project will attempt to build upon and expand upon the work of IDTF and USM, and meet the stated objectives through the development of a mental health summit, learning collaborative, hurricane preparedness fair, and community outreach and education—each emphasizing hazard preparedness and resiliency. The project partners will work together to recruit a diverse group of religious leaders and mental health professionals from Mississippi coastal counties. The project partners will also work to identify emergency management leadership, religious leaders and mental health experts from the region and across the country to serve as resources (e.g., to provide training). IDTF will utilize its network of faith-based organizations and mental health organizations to recruit project participants. USM researchers will help identify and recruit local and national experts in spirituality, mental health and disaster recovery to assist in bringing new resources to the area. Telephone calls, mailings, e-mails, press releases, website postings (on the IDTF and Church Disaster Mental Health Project websites), and local media will be used to identify and reach potential participants on a broad scope. An advisory board consisting of diverse community religious leaders, mental health providers, and hazard preparedness and emergency response workers will also be developed to help guide and implement the project. Overall, project partners will be heavily involved in each stage of the project, from planning details to facilitating and implementing programs.

Rationale

Several researchers have suggested that religious leaders often serve as gatekeepers in their communities (e.g., Aten et al., 2009), and as such, may become a conduit for disaster emotional and spiritual resources (Evans, Kromm, & Sturgis, 2008). Considering the prominent role of many faith communities in times of catastrophe, Koenig (2006) has urged mental health professionals to collaborate with religious leaders to gain better access to and improve services to communities affected by disasters. By joining together, religious leaders and mental health providers may be better suited to provide culturally sensitive services to Mississippi coastal residents that will enhance community hazard awareness, preparedness, and resiliency.

This project will help facilitate sustainable relationships and partnerships between religious leaders and mental health providers along the Mississippi Gulf-Coast region to address hazard related issues (e.g., emotional problems caused by Hurricane Katrina). Religious leaders and mental health providers will benefit from training, education, and resource sharing that will improve coastal hazard preparedness strategies and responses.  The Mississippi coastal community will also benefit from direct outreach and educational experiences (e.g., community presentations, media activities) facilitated through the project, which may lead to enhanced community hazard awareness and resiliency. This project will benefit local and regional groups, agencies, and organizations involved in hazard related activities (e.g., religious, mental health, healthcare, and hazard preparedness and relief providers), who will gain from having their services highlighted to community members, thereby leading to greater service utilization and provider visibility.