Spotlight stories come directly from program participants who have benefited from the Officer Wellness Program. It has been a dire need for many years – whether dealing with traumatic events in your personal or professional life. Read on to understand that you’re not alone in the struggle and see how it’s helped others! As the program develops, more stories will be added.
Brent Schlafer – Wellness Officer
Officers don’t often talk about their feelings. We tend to file them away and when asked how we are doing, we tell you we’re ‘fine.’ Many times, we are not fine and often these feelings come out in ways we don’t intend.
To help officers begin to acknowledge and address these feelings we have developed the Officer Wellness Program: a voluntary, proactive approach to everyday self-care with incentives built in. The incentives are not just for the Officer but also for their family. The program is supported in part with a CARES Up funding grant from the Office of Mental Health NY. It demonstrates respect for the officers’ autonomy by encouraging participation rather than mandating it.
I really could have used this program years ago. There was a time when I felt alone and really didn’t trust people, thinking that most of them wanted something from you before they were willing to help you.
Early in my career as a Corrections Officer I spent many days working 16 hour shifts to keep the lights on and food in the house. I was a single Dad with a week on and a week off arrangement with my son while paying child support. I was grateful I had the week on and off with him while he was growing up because I didn’t want to be every other weekend Dad.
I would put my son to bed at night and try to get a couple hours of sleep before going back into work from midnight until 4 pm. I would then pick my son up from school and head off to a sports related practice or game which we both enjoyed. I would also coach or assistant coach most of his sport activities during that time.
What I didn’t deal with was how little sleep I was getting while working 16 hr shifts multiple times a week. I worked in the jail, which for the most part, was a negative environment and I spent many days without hearing anything positive at work.
I was embarrassed about how I didn’t have much money left over after paying bills, child support and other expenses. I didn’t talk about my lack of money with coworkers. What could they have done? To be honest, some of them might have picked on me about my situation so I kept it to myself. Again, when asked how I was doing I would always say, “I am Fine!”
One winter night my son and I were walking into the house after a school event. I went to turn on the lights and there was no power, which also meant no heat as well. I tried to call the power company and ask them to turn the power back on because of my son not having heat. They said they couldn’t do that until the following day after I paid my bill. This was on a Wednesday, and I got paid on Thursday. Before this happened, I tried to get help from social services, but they said I didn’t qualify because of how much money I made. I showed them I was below the poverty level after my support was taking out of my income but I still did not qualify.
That was it for me… my wheelbarrow tipped over, I went into the bathroom and started having all of these emotions of hurt and pain that I couldn’t put into words. I couldn’t keep my lights on, I felt like a failure as a Dad and a person. I thought I was fine, but that night proved I wasn’t. I believe in God and started praying for help. I got up off the floor and put myself together and went back in the room where my son was and told him we were going on an adventure. I told him we were going to have a movie night at a hotel with popcorn. I was down to my last 70.00 dollars. The next day I got paid, took care of the power bill and life went on. I then started talking with a couple of friends about what I was going through and it helped me.
The Wellness Program is that friend that you can use without saying there is anything wrong. Just another way to take better care of yourself in a proactive way. The program will then give you an incentive not just for you but your family too. If by chance you need more help, there is information built into the program on how to receive that.
Bruce Kear – Correction’s Officer
I believe the wellness program is a great program, even for those who may think it’s not the “Norm”. It’s great that there is an alternative to our self-care that once never existed in this field of work! Myself, I have been through many traumatic events in my life, most happening outside of work while being an active fire fighter and EMT. In those days we would just have a group session to discuss the events of the incident and that was as far as it would go. With this wellness program, there is so many more avenues to take to help with metal wellbeing and I feel that everyone should give it a try. Not just traumatic events cause us stress, there are so many more things in our everyday life that can weigh us down. This program, I feel, will help any and all that try it!
Rob Wilkins – Deputy, Building Security
This training has been needed for decades! Our Wellness Program is helping to get rid of the old theory of “suck it up and deal with it” and teaching law enforcement officers that it is okay to ask for help and to admit that the trauma we see and deal with on a daily basis takes a toll on us mentally and physically. By talking about these issues and bringing awareness to all the negative statistics, along with teaching about the tools and avenues of assistance that are available, hopefully this program will break through the stigma and help first responders live a longer, healthier, and happier life.