At a time when news reports all over the world are saturated with stories of violence and strife, finding accounts of disparate communities coming together to assist one another in breaking cycles of violence and fostering healing can often feel impossible. Nonetheless, one needs look no further than the city of Chicago to find such a case, where NATAL is using the vast knowledge and expertise it has amassed over the last 18 years to assist the community of Bronzeville, in inner-city Chicago, to stand up a new community outreach center and program, called the TURN Center, to help families, and particularly young people, deal with the trauma of urban violence in their community.

This innovative collaboration between two far-flung and seemingly very different cultures, is the result of months of planning and coordination, and will result in the creation of the TURN (The Urban Resiliency Network) Center in what was once an empty storefront on South Cottage Grove Avenue in Bronzeville, Chicago. This center will serve as a haven for people who have experienced the trauma of inner-city gang violence and a place they can turn to for counseling; counseling that is directly modeled after care programming that NATAL currently provides to Israelis who are similarly in need of therapeutic interventions after the traumas of terror and war.

The partnership between the two communities was initiated in 2012 when representatives of Sinai Health and Chicago faith based leaders visited NATAL’s center in Tel Aviv and learned about the organization’s unique and innovative treatment model. It formalized in 2015, when the newly formed TURN and the Sinai Health System invited NATAL to conduct a needs assessment in their communities. As part of the process, NATAL professionals visited Chicago to conduct focus groups, map out existing resources for trauma and resiliency building services, and determine where potential gaps may exist.

Following, and as a result of, this extensive needs assessment and analysis, NATAL just recently concluded the second phase of its work with TURN by working to bring elements of its innovative “Helpline” care model to Chicago. NATAL’s Helpline is a one of kind in the world program which provides ongoing telephonic psychological help and support for victims of trauma as a result of terrorism and war.

“What an amazing partnership I found when I connected to NATAL”, said Pastor Chris Harris, Sr., from Bright Star Church & Bright Star Community Outreach.When trauma and violence strikes in Chicago, as it far too often does, the question I always ask is “Who takes care of the victims and offer post-trauma counseling to them and their families; whether it be the victim’s family or the perpetrator’s family?”  Unfortunately, the answer is very few; if any at all in Chicago. By teaching us their Hotline model, what NATAL is helping me, my organization and community to create is going to positively impact the lives of so many in Chicago.” 

NATAL’s Helpline is available to adults and children in Israel in different languages, for an unlimited period of time, as needed. Those who call the Israeli Helpline are guided by volunteers who have undergone an extensive period of training. Using the phone as a therapeutic aide has numerous advantages, such as immediacy, availability and low cost. A person can receive mental help and support without ever leaving their home, being exposed, facing their fears and reservations or committing to clinical treatment, all of which are aspects that make the program potentially appealing to Chicagoans impacted by violence. The Helpline does not aim to replace psychological treatment but introduce an additional complementary service. It is NATAL and TURN’s intention to use this Helpline model as a foundational service offering, with Faith Based leaders serving as the staffers manning the line and providing the assistance.

The recently concluded phase included helping to build the necessary infrastructure for TURN’s Helpline, as well as a 5-week intensive training of the First cohort of faith-based leaders and mental health professionals to provide pre-clinical counselling to those of their individual congregants who may be in need.

The major objectives of this training were to equip TURN’s Pastors with the tools, knowledge, attitudes, and skills required to perform the task of a Helpline supporter, the expertise to provide trauma informed interventions within their community and to serve as a pillar for community resilience.

“Historically, people of African descent and people of Jewish descent have been among the most consistent, prominent, and public targets of hatred, discrimination and oppression”, said Sigal Haimov, Director of Professional Programs and Models Development for NATAL in Israel. “These shared histories of oppression have shaped the lives of generations of both Blacks and Jews and contributed to the two peoples having shared values, such as social community responsibility and identification with the “underdog”. It is this role and responsibility of the community in the treatment and healing process that is the basis for much of NATAL’s work and our collaborations with other organizations around the world.”

Over the next year NATAL will continue training and supporting TURN as they lay the foundation and launch the Helpline. From strengthening their infrastructure abilities, to supporting the professional staff, as well, providing further training to TURN staff in Chicago to be able to provide a range of different trauma informed interventions to their communities. It is the goal to enable TURN to be self-sustaining and to serve Chicago’s communities.