On March 16, 2020, New Jersey began stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic. That day, the staff at Crossroads4Hope closed its physical doors and transitioned to a completely virtual model of support, available at no charge, as always, for anyone impacted by cancer at a time when they needed it most. One year later, hope continues to find its way into this new normal.
As an organization led by social work, Crossroads4Hope also had the mechanisms in place to check in with its members, beginning the process of understanding how the pandemic would specifically impact them by sending out a survey within the first week of the stay-at-home orders. The response was overwhelmingly clear that cancer remained the primary stressor in their lives, and that they were going to need the ongoing support of Crossroads4Hope.
“Ensuring that our community of persons with cancer, survivors, family members, and caregivers, were able to maintain access to our vital programs and services was our number one concern,” says Amy Sutton, CEO at Crossroads4Hope.
The public’s feelings of isolation, worry, and fear that were brought on by the pandemic, including health and safety regulations, were new, but for people affected by cancer, these feelings were all too familiar.
“I was so happy that this organization didn’t miss a beat when COVID hit. They switched their services to remote and remained engaged and accessible for all the members. I’ve now even been able to take advantage of programs that I would not have had the opportunity to in the past,” says Lisa (who asked her last name not be used), Crossroads4Hope member. “I see firsthand how the support groups, educational programs, nutritional information, and activities have immensely helped people in a time of dire need. I am so grateful to have this organization and their wonderful supportive team available to me and my family.”
Within the first month of stay-at-home orders, there was a 51% increase in Crossroads4Hope’s average program attendance. Even with virtual programming on a secure online platform, staff made great efforts to remain in contact with their community through check-in calls carried out by licensed mental health professionals. Throughout 2020, 1,127 check-in calls were made to members to screen for their safety and ensure they maintained access to vital resources.
“There are far more people who need our help, especially during the pandemic,” says Katherine Schaible, LSW, Program Director of Crossroads4Hope. “We are here to support them to become active, empowered, and resilient in their ability to take control of their health, healthcare, and well-being.”
For members like Nancy Gonzalez, an educator, these programs have been vital to her health and well-being at a time when much is unknown. “It has been a godsend to be able to do this [virtually]. With the stress of COVID-19, teaching online, and not knowing what was happening, the virtual programs are a positive outlet for me. There’s no doubt they helped me navigate the anxieties and fears of COVID-19 and isolation. Even though I live alone, I had this community, so I never really felt alone.”
According to The Institute of Medicine, psychosocial support is crucial in the delivery of quality cancer care. During a pandemic, this need is even greater as there are more stressors outside of the diagnosis. The easy access to programs, services and community was crucial at a time when traveling and gatherings were not possible. These resources were available at the click of a button, with mental health professionals available for those with more individualized needs.
Program facilitators witnessed the importance of these programs and services, as they “met” with members on a regular basis. “As the facilitator for the bereavement group, my group members are always adjusting to their life without their loved one. When the pandemic started, many members felt that they were forced to take a step back in their grieving process,” said a Crossroads4Hope Bereavement Group Facilitator. “Many of the coping strategies they had developed were not possible to employ during the pandemic and their isolation felt extremely hard. As the group continued to meet during these months, they valued their connection with one another even more.”
Virtual programming will remain a staple for Crossroads4Hope to increase reach and allow for Crossroads4Hope to meet community members where they are. In 2020, there was a 70% increase in educational program attendance, and nearly one third of those programs were outreach into culturally-specific vulnerable communities.
“While the year was full of changes, our mission and our resolve did not waver. We will continue to be available to anyone impacted by cancer, providing the help and hope they need anywhere on their journey,” says Sutton.
To learn more about Crossroads4Hope, visit crossroads4hope.org or call 908-658-5400.
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Crossroads4Hope was founded as an independent 501(c)(3) in 2002 by four women who believed that people with cancer and their families deserved professionally led, community-based social and emotional support, education, and resources throughout their cancer journeys. Since 2004, more than 15,500 people have accessed Crossroads4Hope, resulting in 84,000 visits and over 100,000 hours of programming delivered, always offered at no charge. The organization helps all those touched by cancer to move through a health crisis to become active and empowered, taking control of their health and wellbeing. Crossroads4Hope’s network of support embraces all people touched by cancer—the diagnosed and their loved ones—providing access to resources and evidence-based programs of support, education, wellbeing, and hope. Crossroads4Hope is committed to upholding the dignity of all people through cultural humility and respect for gender identification, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and income difference. Our vision is to be THE safe space to turn first to restore one’s whole being and improve the life of persons with cancer and their families beyond the disease. Learn more at crossroads4hope.org or call 908-658-5400.