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FEMA-funded NY Project Hope offers emotional support during COVID pandemic

'We don't have opinions on an emotional crisis line. All we have is a voice to say, 'Hey, I'm here to help, and I'm here to listen,' ' Christine Ziemba said.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — For more than a year, we've been hearing about the mental health impact of isolation and uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's been everything, and it's been the big moments and the small moments. So a lot of anticipatory grief, and also transition grief," said Christine Marie Ziemba of Spectrum Health and Human Services. 

She added at this point mental health professionals are now seeing a mix of emotions about what's ahead.

Ziemba explained, "I'm really anxious to get back to what I knew, and I'm also anxious to get back to what I knew. What does that look like?"

Luckily there are several resources to help navigate those feelings, one being NY Project Hope, a statewide program funded through FEMA.

According to the website, "Through an emotional support helpline, educational materials, and trusted referrals, NY Project Hope helps people manage and cope with changes brought on by COVID-19."

According to Ziemba, "They took some time to see what counties were affected, and we found that Erie County was especially affected by COVID emotionally. And they developed this crisis counseling tool for Erie County to say, 'Hey, we're not going compete. We're going to just open this up for all Erie County residents for free.' "

Spectrum Health and Human Services was chosen as one of the local providers.

Ziemba, who's serving as the program coordinator, said people of all ages and backgrounds can benefit from the program. 

"That's the beauty of this crisis program. As a counselor, I used to have to ask people, 'How old are you?' 'What's your insurance?' and if you were under 18, we'd have to send you different places. ... What's really great about this program is that anybody could call. Kids could call. Older adults could call. A whole family could call," Ziemba said.

She added, "It's an anonymous, free and confidential crisis line. People hear crisis line and they're like, 'Oh crisis!' No, this is an emotional support line. The difference between that and a crisis line is, you call a crisis line when you're feeling like, 'I'm right there at the edge of the cliff.' An emotional support line is just that, 'I'm not sure, do I need help or don't I need help? But I could really use someone to talk to,' so pick up the phone."

Ziemba told 2 On Your Side the program was slated to end in mid-June, but advocates are pushing for an extension, based on both the program's success and the need.  

"We don't have opinions on an emotional crisis line. All we have is a voice to say, 'Hey, I'm here to help and I'm here to listen," Ziemba said.

Spectrum Health's Project Hope Emotional Support Helpline: 716-566-6506

  •  Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

NY Project Hope Emotional Support Helpline: 1-844-863-9314

  • Seven days a week 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. 
  • Learn more about NY Project Hope here.
  • Learn more about Spectrum Health and Human Services here.