JACKSON – A gathering of chaplains and counselors assembled to launch a new church ministry but the evening’s meeting also proved to be a reunion of those from the area that responded to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
That fact did not go unnoticed by those present during the meeting that kicked off the new effort and in many ways served to inspire them to look at this new mission as an extension to the traumas they had experienced themselves and those that they helped others cope with at Ground Zero some 18 years ago.
Township resident Dan Schafer serves as chaplain for several police departments including Jackson, Brick, Stafford and the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department. “I am also Chaplain for Jackson Fire Departments and First Aid Squad and was honored to serve as chaplain to the United States Secret Service,” Schafer said. The 31-year resident of Jackson said his most challenging time as a chaplain was serving at ground zero. “I served there from day one until May 30, 2002.”
Schafer, joined by his wife Ruthann, welcomed around 30 people to the meeting and explained the purpose of launching of the ministry for first responders, police and military. The program is called, “Frontline Outreach Ministries.” Services and meetings will be held every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at Jackson Mills Fire Station #54, 465 N. County Line Rd.
“Our staff consists of clinical psychologists, drug and alcohol counselors, grief and bereavement counselors, suicide awareness team and critical incident stress management,” Schafer said.
Schafer introduced the Frontline Team and staff. They include Dr. Francine Roberts, a licensed psychologist; Dr. William Ammon, involved with ministry and pastoral counseling; James Casey, a grief recovery specialist; and Walter and Andrea Santso, who are drug/alcohol counselors.
Team members also include Recovery Peer Specialist/Grief and Bereavement Specialist Lynda McDonald and Head of Security Sylvester “Sly” Brown along with military liaison Susan Koller.
Schafer serves as Facilitator Chaplain United States Secret Service, Specialist in Critical
Incident Stress Management and Acute Stress Management.
Mayor Michael Reina welcomed those assembled and commended Schafer and his team for what they were doing and noted that the township “has new challenges in 2020 but at the end of the day we’ll do what’s best for the people and that never changes.”
Also present was David Leonardis who serves as confidential assistant to the Deputy Director at the NJ Office of Homeland Security. “Chaplains play such an important role and they do so such good work. I certainly have a great appreciation of them. I put on a chaplain’s conference every year and this year’s is on June 9 in New Brunswick.”
Leonardis said that he is involved with outreach efforts which include an interfaith community coalition. He added that the state had approved resiliency training. “Every police officer in the state will be trained in resiliency. We are also working with first responders, EMTs, and firefighters. These are people who see many bad things as well. Our State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal put this in place,” Leonardis told the audience.
Leonardis said this program was in response to high numbers of police officer suicides in the state. “The numbers have been up. More officers are killed by their own hand then they are on the job. This program is long overdue and it will be the first of its kind in the country.”
Audience member Sarah Atlas recalled her time at Ground Zero saying she went out there with a cadaver dog. “She did what she was trained to do as part of NJ Task Force One. My dog died 10 months afterward most likely from the chemicals she was exposed to there.”
“It takes a toll on you. We lost a lot of people,” Brown added.
“After all these years, many of us are coming back together,” Schafer said noting the group’s renewed purpose and the added strength of other members who will be part of the ministry.
Susan Holland said she became involved in such efforts after having been assaulted and noting the need for those who help others to destress, hosted compassion, fatigue weekends at a beach house on the Jersey shore. She said cost free program was designed for those who were traumatized by incidents of “suicide, murder, or something that got to you.”
“I haven’t done a workshop in about nine to 10 years but I’m ready to do them again.”
Casey described serving as chaplain/counselor saying, “you go through this terrible thing but you can help people heal through your scars.”
Schafer urged everyone in attendance to “never give up. It is great to have a plan but if you don’t re-enforce it, it means nothing. I still remember the ringing in my ears from the screaming in my ears 50 years ago when I had to tell a mother her 6-year-old son had drowned in a pool. I remember that as if it was yesterday.”
“The general public are also encouraged to attend the services. For further information call Chaplain Schafer at 732-928-8847 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.