When Lorraine Ruggieri, Learning Specialist and Academic Coach for MMC’s Academic Access Program, heard the call for mental health counselors for the NYS COVID-19 emotional support helpline, she responded immediately. “It was a no brainer,” Ruggieri says. “I am a licensed social worker and part of the ethics of my profession is to respond to a need for help.” She filled out three separate applications to make sure that she would be called, and completed a two-part online training program and post-training exam to become certified as a COVID-19 counselor. She now remains on standby as a counselor for the NYC helpline, as well as other regional helplines, to provide support for those in need, as the pandemic has considerably increased the likelihood of people suffering from emotional disturbances, depression, bereavement, fear, anxiety, isolation, and PTSD, both in our current situation and its eventual aftermath.
As a learning specialist in MMC’s Academic Access Program, which helps students with learning disabilities get the targeted support they need to excel, Ruggieri has adapted to the virtual teaching environment. “It gives me a charge and burst of energy each day to see my students remotely,” she says. “As if right-handed and now challenged to be left-handed, they are working hard to adapt to this new way of learning. But these challenges give us the opportunity to grow.”
In addition, Ruggieri has been a group facilitator for support groups for caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia for the past 28 years. In recent weeks, she has participated in multiple workshops to improve on her tele-mental health practices in this virtual environment, as well as develop additional methods for self-care and interventions. She continues to run the support group meetings virtually and now also provides pro bono counseling for caregivers and the bereaved in her free time. Despite the circumstances, Ruggieri maintains an optimistic outlook, and devotes her energy and expertise to helping others cope, grow, and thrive.