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Finding the Helpers
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Finding the Helpers

Author: Alexis Decosimo and Kristin Ramsey

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In Season 1 of Finding the helpers, we are bringing personal stories of front line staff and families impacted by COVID-19. Our diverse guests will be invited to share their story of being on the front line, and in combination to their story, two expressive art therapists will provide art and creative activities that will support the challenges the individual and their family is facing. These could include ideas for short relaxation techniques to be done on the front line, creative ways to explain in kid friendly terms what is happening, ways to stay connected to family and children during long periods of isolation, etc.Throughout the podcast, conversation will include mental health insight related to the pandemic, anxiety and stress, grief and loss, resiliency, coping skills, and understanding the pandemic. Presented by the nonprofit Playing to Live's, whose history began in 2014 as a grassroots program focused on bringing play and creativity in the midst of the Ebola deadly viruses. Following our work in Ebola, we have continued our work as advocates and creators for play and expression across the globe in refugee settings, post war countries, and in the United States of America.
13 Episodes
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“Just love people, be present, be real, be authentic. Those are the things that keep it real, keep us human, keep us in a shared experience.”In our final episode of Season 1 on Finding the Helpers, we have an interview that manages to tie all our other interviews beautifully together. Mary Affee is a licensed clinical social worker, PhD candidate, and specializes in play and trauma therapy. She left her bustling practice in North Carolina to return to her original home of New York City for four weeks to be a therapeutic presence for frontline medical staff in hospitals as they faced the height of New York’s COVID-19 peak. Like many front line staff and our other interviewees, Mary stressed a few times during this interview that she is not a hero. Mary’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer at 16 years old, and Mary truly saw this deployment to New York as her time to pay it back to the medical staff who saved her daughter’s life. As we listened to Mary’s story, it was clear to us that with her clinical background, personal experiences, and the four weeks she spent working in New York hospitals, that Mary was not only going to help us share another powerful story, but that she tied together so many of the profound lessons we have learned through these interviews in the past four months. You will find more about Mary's interview on our blog.Thank you for spending this time with us. Thank you for listening and helping us share these essential stories. As this is our last episode for the season, we want to share that interviewing all of our amazing guests has been such an honor for us. As we look forward to Season 2, we will continue to highlight the frontline of COVID-19, but we are also looking to expand our focus to other situations where individuals are working tirelessly to support their community in need. Please feel free to continue to communicate with us on ideas for interviews. We look forward to coming back soon but until next time, stay safe out there.Please with connect us by emailing us at info@playingtolive.org. And finally, please subscribe to our podcast, rate us, leave a comment, and share the podcast with others who you think may enjoy it. We need your help to share this important story.A special thanks to Mary for her time. Thanks to Josh Carter for the theme music (find more at https://prettylittlegoat.com), and to Lindsay Bingaman for writing our blog.
In this episode of Finding the Helpers, we had the pleasure of speaking with Isaac Cosmas, a South Sudanese refugee who Playing to Live met while conducting a mental health needs assessment in Rhino camp, a refugee settlement in Uganda. Isaac was there as both a refugee and working as part of the frontline staff providing supporting the mental health needs of other refugees. In his interview, Isaac shares with us his story of struggle, resilience, and brings to light the hardships facing refugees during a global pandemic.Of about 1.4 million refugees in Ugandan settlements total, about 848,000 are South Sudanese. Isaac describes the uphill battle the South Sudanese face when arriving in Uganda as a result of not being as exposed to the world and to education as Ugandan people. He says he brought one idea with him to the settlement, “We have to beat all odds. We have to continue beating the odds. The benefits of life that come easily, we have to get to the hard way. We have to turn it around to make it succeed."The pandemic has made things even more difficult for refugees. Isaac speaks extensively about cuts in donor funding, lack of access to information, and the immense stressors on frontline staff. He also shares about how approaches to this virus that have worked in other countries such as the United States and Europe will not work in countries torn apart by war where most citizens are starving or at risk of severe malnutrition, as well as the state of their medical system and lack of testing. Despite all of this, Isaac and his community are still pushing through, “We still have the hope. And we’re not losing the effort. But I’m quite sure that after this pandemic people will face more serious mental health issues than food and clothes. And it might even kill more people than what COVID-19 is killing.”You will find more about Isaac's interview, links to resources he has provided about the situation in South Sudan and his non-profit, and the self-care activities from the Playing to Live clinical team inspired by his story, on our blog. You can also email him at vedossd@gmail.com to learn more about his nonprofit (VEDO).Do you know someone working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response? We want to hear from them. Please connect us with them by emailing us at info@playingtolive.org. And finally, please subscribe to our podcast, rate us, leave a comment, and share the podcast with others who you think may enjoy it. We need your help to share this important story.A special thanks to Isaac for his time. Thanks to Josh Carter for the theme music (find more at https://prettylittlegoat.com), and to Lindsay Bingaman for writing our blog.
In the midst of what feels like every day brings more challenges and unveils more hard truths, our episode this week is dedicated to recharging through moments of hope, grace, and connection. Our interviewee is Laura Fuchs and she is a photographer living in New York City. With a degree in psychology from Barnard and ten years of photography experience, Laura brings incredible empathy and connection to her art.When the pandemic hit, Laura realized as she walked around New York City that not only did people seem scared, but they weren't even looking at each other anymore. In response to that, she found herself trying to smile at people through her own mask. One day with a passing stranger's returned "smize" she realized that, despite masks, smiles could still be acknowledged and returned and just how special that felt. She began trying it out on a few people by asking if she could photograph them smiling behind their masks and “Mask Smiles” was born. Laura shares passionately that this project is not to invalidate how hard this time is. Not everyone can smile right now, and she is aware of and respectful of that. She reminds us, “These are smiles of resilience, these are smiles of strength.” And that in the face of all this trauma, it can biologically change your state to force a smile. She has dedicated her project to encouraging emotional connection at a time of physical separation, and has done so in a way which proves how possible that is. Follow Laura’s project on Instagram: @masksmiles. You can scroll through it, or you can submit photos of you, your loved ones, or those in your community, smiling behind your masks. You can also check out Laura’s other work, including amazing coverage of the protests in New York City, on her personal page: @laurasfuchs. Let’s help Laura teach people that we can connect through masks. Let’s find ways to stay connected in the face of such divisive times. And let’s get behind this message that we are in this together. It’s our best way through it. Read more about Laura's interview and the self-care activities from the Playing to Live clinical team inspired by her story on our blog.  Do you know someone working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response? We want to hear from them. Please connect us with them by emailing us at info@playingtolive.org. And finally, please subscribe to our podcast, rate us, leave a comment, and share the podcast with others who you think may enjoy it. We need your help to share this important story.A special thanks to Laura for her time. Thanks to Josh Carter for the theme music (find more at https://prettylittlegoat.com), and to Lindsay Bingaman for writing our blog.
In this episode, we interview Joe Rojas on his experience of the prison system’s response to COVID-19. One of the reasons we wanted to investigate the prison system during this pandemic is because the conditions in prisons make containing an infectious disease inherently difficult. This pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color, and with people of color making up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population, one of the things we learned from Joe is that prisons are yet another space where vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected by this pandemic.Joe has been a corrections officer in the prison system for 25 years, and is a member of law enforcement. He refers to himself and other guards, as the forgotten law officers. We realize that law enforcement is a very loaded term right now and is at the center of this long and current battle for racial justice. Joe is a big advocate for his staff and for prisoners alike, and one of his main missions is to make sure everyone in the prison system is treated and protected fairly by management. Joe tells us about the stress that COVID-19 is bringing to the prison staff and inmates, in what can already be a very stressful environment.As our country continues to fight COVID-19 and racial inequities every day, we want to acknowledge how hard this time is for so many people. We have struggled to figure out how to proceed with this project in a way that values and prioritizes both battles. Our mission in starting this was to highlight people who are working to improve our world by caring for others, and in this time of great turmoil, the stories we have collected from those on the front line of COVID-19 will continue to add to a greater sense of healing and prioritizing of self care, and we are excited to continue to share them with you. Resources for Suicide Prevention:National Suicide Prevention Hotline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.orgEAP Hotline (for Prison Staff): https://www.bop.gov/resources/employee_support.jsp#eapResources for Inmate Rights:FAMM: https://famm.orgRAPP: http://rappcampaign.comACLU: https://www.aclu.orgMarshall Project: https://www.themarshallproject.orgThe Appeal.org: https://theappeal.orgCorrectional Association of New York: https://www.correctionalassociation.org/about-canyJohn Howard Association of Illinois: https://www.thejha.orgTexas Inmate Families Association: https://tifa.orgTexas Criminal Justice Coalition: https://www.texascjc.orgRead more about Joe's story, the resources provided, and suggested self care activities inspired by his story from the Playing to Live clinical team, on our blog.Do you know someone working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response? We want to hear from them. Please connect us with them by emailing us at info@playingtolive.org. And finally, please subscribe to our podcast, give us a rating, leave a comment, and share the podcast with others who you think may enjoy it. We need your help to share this important story.A special thanks to Joe for his time. Thanks to Josh Carter for the theme music, find more at https://prettylittlegoat.com, and to Lindsay Bingaman for writing our blog.
This week we have been reminded, again, that there are many vital battles to fight. The United States and the world have witnessed more brutal killings of innocent people, and communities are standing up to fight for justice. In light of what is currently happening in our country, outside of COVID-19, we have decided to take a moment and pause from releasing a new interview this week. The injustices and traumas are so pervasive that we must stop what we are doing and take action. This pandemic is far from over, however, in alignment with our mission of supporting those on the front lines, we have decided that there are many front lines and right now we want to support those standing up against social and racial injustice.To honor the fight for justice and the many people who are experiencing persistent and systemic racial inequities each day, we are offering resources which provide information on how to help either through donation or action. Some strong organizations to start with are Black Lives Matter, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Color of Change. Additionally, there is a viral google spreadsheet providing information about bail out funds listed specifically by location, so that you can find your local affiliates. Campaign Zero is working on reforming law enforcement policies from the ground up, you can donate to the George Floyd and ‘I run with Maud’ GoFundMe sites, and sign this petition for justice for Breonna Taylor. Lastly, for those of you who want to act in person, here is an article from Vice on how to join a protest, during a pandemic, as safely as possible. These protests and this cause are vital, and the call to action to show up for your community is valid; and there is still a virus spreading through our states at the same time, so it’s important to answer that call to action as informed as possible.Please go to our blog for additional resources and suggestions. We know our list is not exhaustive, so please reach out to us at info@playingtolive.org if you have additions and we will continue to update it. A special thanks to Laura Fuchs for her photography. Thanks to Josh Carter for the theme music, find more at https://prettylittlegoat.com, and to Lindsay Bingaman for writing our blog.
In the episode Removing the Armor: Breaking Stigmas & Building Unity, we interview Dr. Budhrani. He has been practicing clinically for over 20 years as an emergency room (ER) physician, is the CEO of Innovation Health, whose goal is to unify the health care system making the patient experience more fluid and affordable, and is a professor at George Washington (GW) School of Medicine. We are grateful he was able to make the time to speak with us about the impact that COVID-19 is having on the medical system as a whole, and the mental and physical health of frontline health workers, their families, and what resources are available to them.Dr. Budhrani explains how it is critical for health care providers to have a seat at the table when discussing what the ‘new’ world will look like when we think about going back to school, back to work, etc. He also explains how coordination of care is key. That healthcare industries need to share data and manage populations in a coordinated fashion to prevent the virus from spreading, and to inform the public health response for future pandemics, or a second wave. He says thinking of COVID-19 as ‘going away’ is a dangerous assumption, but rather thinking about how to manage and prevent the spread are going to be the keys to our success going forward. Not simply rolling the dice and hoping it will go away.“Working on the frontline these days is like going to war, and a lot of these folks are built to contain these feelings and thoughts in order to do their jobs.” He explains how he and other frontline health staff often internalize their stress and anxiety because they think people will not understand. And that the longer this goes on, the more it collects and builds inside. Dr. Budhrani stresses the importance of finding an outlet to explore these feelings. He says there are two main things we need to do in order to support frontline health workers’ mental health:Break the stigma. It is okay to feel stressed out or anxious, it’s okay to talk about these feelings, it's okay to ask for help. He says, “We don’t treat our physical health with a stigma, so why do we treat our mental health this way?” He suggests beginning by using existing channels of support from friends or family. And then if further help is needed, he urges people to look into their Employee Assistance Plans which offer services for dealing with stress, and to remember that virtual telehealth therapy is available right now. That even with so much shut down therapists, social workers, and primary care doctors are still available through video chat or phone. Read more about Dr. Budhrani's story and suggested self care activities from the Playing to Live clinical team inspired by his story on our blog.Do you know someone working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response? We want to hear from them. Please connect us with them by emailing us at info@playingtolive.org. And finally, please subscribe to our podcast, give us a rating, leave a comment, and share the podcast with others who you think may enjoy it. We need your help to share this important story.A special thanks to Dr. Budhrani for his time. Thanks to Josh Carter for the theme music, find more at https://prettylittlegoat.com, and to Lindsay Bingaman for writing our blog.
What is it like to be a funeral director in the epicenter of a pandemic? This week we sat down with Sherry Bensimon, a New York and New Jersey state licensed funeral director, to hear her story of how COVID-19 is impacting her work and home life. Sherry has given her life to taking care of the dead in all possible ways. From the time she was sixteen, she was a member of the chevra kadisha, a Jewish holy burial group made up of volunteers from the congregation who wash and shroud the deceased to prepare them for burial. Sherry describes how difficult it has been for her to do her job during this pandemic, “These people died alone and they are being buried alone. A lot of cemeteries are only allowing 3-8 people to be there. At least I’m there, but the people that should have been there are not. They’re not being given the love and respect they deserve. That is emotionally the hardest for me. How do you tell a family well sorry but your cemetery will only allow 3 people?”Additional Links: Sherry serves on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP): New York City Chapter, “I’m part of a wonderful, active, caring board. Our Director, Amy is tireless and focused. AFSP has real scientists doing real research on contributors to suicide and how to go about Suicide Prevention.”Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association serves as the advocate for funeral directors, and the families they serve, in all five boroughs of New York City and the surrounding areas.Read more about Sherry's story and suggested quick self care activities from the Playing to Live clinical team inspired by her story on our blog.Do you know someone working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response? We want to hear from them. Please connect us with them by emailing us at info@playingtolive.org. And finally, please subscribe to our podcast, give us a rating, leave a comment, and share the podcast with others who you think may enjoy it. We need your help to share this important story.A special thanks to Sherry for her time. Thanks to Josh Carter for the theme music, find more at https://prettylittlegoat.com, and to Lindsay Bingaman for writing our blog.
As a physician assistant working in oncology at a multiple myeloma center in New York City, Alex Kaiser gives us a glimpse of what it's like to be a healthcare provider who is not treating COVID-19 patients during this pandemic. She explains how she’s supporting her patients through and how she’s finding ways to support herself. Despite her hard work and dedication to her patients and her community, Alex explains how many health care workers not on the ‘front lines’ (ie. emergency room, COVID-19 units) are currently feeling a sense of survivors’ guilt, “Because we don’t have N95 (surgical mask) bruises on our faces or we’re not holding patients' hands as they die, it’s easy to feel like I’m not doing enough.” However, Alex discovered that this comparative guilt does not serve her, and decided to take a new approach.When asked what else she wanted to leave our listeners with, Alex wanted to emphasize the importance of practicing self-compassion, “We’re all experiencing a collective trauma, and whatever you’re doing is enough. Be kind to others, and especially yourself. Accept the situation because it’s not changing, and fighting it will only make it harder. And as Phish says, Just relax, you’re doing fine.”We wanted to leave you with a link to a Go Fund Me project she started. Alex quickly figured out that the subway was no longer safe and found alternative ways to commute. She was made aware that, despite feeling "terrified" on their ways to and from work, many of the hospital's support staff didn't have the luxury of avoiding those crowded trains. This Go Fund Me page is dedicated to raising money for gift cards to ensure support staff have access to taxis or Ubers and can commute in a much safer way. You can support Alex’s fundraising campaign here. Read more about Alex's story and suggested quick self care activities from the Playing to Live clinical team inspired by her story on our blog.Do you know someone working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response? We want to hear from them. Please connect us with them by emailing us at info@playingtolive.org. And finally, please subscribe to our podcast, give us a rating, leave a comment, and share the podcast with others who you think may enjoy it. We need your help to share this important story.A special thanks to Alex for her time to talk with us. Thanks to Josh Carter for the theme music, find more at https://prettylittlegoat.com, and to Lindsay Bingaman for writing our blog.
In Episode 4, we interview Rouben Madikians who is a flight attendant, yoga teacher, photographer, and COVID-19 survivor. His story inspires us to look for connection even in the isolation and that being vulnerable takes strength and courage. His interview highlights for all of us the importance of self love and empathy for ourselves and others, even in times of crises.  Read more about Rouben's stories and suggested quick self care activities from the Playing to Live clinical team inspired by his story on our blog. Do you know someone working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response? We want to hear from them. Please connect us with them by emailing us at info@playingtolive.org. And finally, please subscribe to our podcast, give us a rating, leave a comment, and share the podcast with others who you think may enjoy it. We need your help to share this important story.A special thanks to Rouben for his time to talk with us. See more of Rouben’s photos here.  Thanks to Josh Carter for the theme music, find more at https://prettylittlegoat.com, and to Lindsay Bingaman for writing our blog.
We are thrilled to bring you Felicia Temple: contender on The Voice in 2017, accomplished musician, and ICU nurse.Felicia has been receiving media attention in the past few weeks since an interview during  Global Citizen's "One World: Together At Home” concert. She was on an international music tour in Brussels, when she found out the US planned to close its borders. Within a week, she was “rolling up her sleeves” and got back to work at her former nursing job, this time in the newly set up covid-19 ICU of Holy Name Medical Center.She returned to her hospital but everything felt different than before she had left to pursue her music career, several months before. Felicia wanted to be back on the frontlines with her former coworkers, in a job she has always loved, where her biggest personal challenge is not being able to see her family. Felicia wants people to know that as a nurse, she doesn’t feel like a hero. “We do it because we love this job and it’s our duty, it’s what we signed up for. People are working hard like this every day because they love their jobs, not just because there’s a global crisis.”Listen in for Felicia's stories and suggested quick self care activities from the Playing to Live clinical team inspired by her story. Read more about Felicia's story and the activities presented on this podcast on our blog. Do you know someone working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response? We want to hear from them. Please connect us with them by emailing us at info@playingtolive.org. And finally, please subscribe to our podcast, give us a rating, leave a comment, and share the podcast with others who you think may enjoy it. We need your help to share this important story.A special thanks to Felicia for her time to talk with us. You can find her music on Spotify or where ever you listen to music. Here is a link to the song featured on this podcast https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQGnuhePedI. Josh Carter for the theme music, find more at https://prettylittlegoat.com, and to Lindsay Bingaman for writing our blog. 
The first guest to the podcast is Morgan Sykes. At the beginning of 2020, Morgan planned to make her journalism comeback, but then the pandemic hit. In a desire to serve her community, Morgan posted a tweet that went viral, offering to help with grocery shopping and delivery on her bike. She quickly became overwhelmed with delivery requests and a “bizarre” amount of media attention.Then, she found Corona Couriers*, a team of volunteers offering free low-contact deliveries using a “neighbors helping neighbors” model. She joined them and hit the ground running. Specializing in long-haul trips, she can carry up to 40lbs at a time. Listen to Morgan's story of finding her strengths and stepping up to be a part of an essential volunteer network to provide vulnerable New Yorkers their essential goods. Later in the episode, Kristen and Alexis introduce self-care activities that Morgan and all of our listeners can use inspired by Morgan's story and the challenges they face. Read more about Morgan's story and the activities presented on this podcast on our blog. Do you know someone working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response? We want to hear from them. Please connect us with them by emailing us at info@playingtolive.org. And finally, please subscribe to our podcast, give us a rating, leave a comment, and share the podcast with others who you think may enjoy it.*For listeners tuning in from NYC: Corona Couriers has funds available to buy groceries for those who cannot afford it right now. Please call or text (929)320-0660, or email coronacourier@protonmail.com if you or someone you know needs help. A special thank you to Josh Carter for our podcast's theme music. You can hear more of his band's music at https://prettylittlegoat.com.
In our first episode, our co-hosts Alexis and Kristin introduce you to our podcast. Each episode will focus on our guest's stories, challenges, and perspective from the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our hosts, who are expressive arts therapists, will conclude the episode with several self care activities inspired by our guests, which can be used by all our listeners. We welcome feedback and connections to guests through emailing us at info@playingtolive.org. Make sure to subscribe, rate, and share our podcasts with your friends. Playing to Live is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that seeks to meet the mental health and psychosocial needs of children and communities in low-resource, high trauma communities world wide.  We do this through  program development, expert mental health consultancy, research & assessments, and advocacy & information sharing of​best practices. A special thank you to Josh Carter for our podcast's theme music. You can hear more of his band's music at https://prettylittlegoat.com.
Welcome everyone, the non profit Playing to Live is so excited to announce that after weeks of discussion on how best we can support our community during the uncertainty of this global epidemic, we have decided on producing a podcast. The podcast is going to focus on creating a space for people on the frontline to tell their stories, and our team at Playing to Live is going to suggest creative and mindful activities inspired by their story. Listen to our executive director Alexis tell you more about what is to come. Support the show (https://www.paypal.com/donate/?token=IPu8NKIEjLXGtKPg4zZwyRCr9PCar7c8pIBv-6mvrBpiKlmXxDgInlsazKN4r6yHeX8WuG&country.x=US&locale.x=US)
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