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Helping people during a nerve-racking time; Town social worker is an Island resource

Lucille Buergers, Shelter Island Town’s social worker, is “busy” these days, she said with a laugh, fielding requests from more people than usual.

In addition to those who have sought her advice and counsel before the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis shut down the Island, she’s been in touch with 16 other Islanders who are in need of her services.

“There’s not a lot of fear,” said Ms. Buergers, a veteran professional who studied sociology at the University of Kansas and has a master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University. “No one is panicking, no one is freaking out.”

But that’s not to say that people are not worried, and some people’s emotional lives are being tested.

Most of those who get in touch with her, in good times and in these times, are living alone. Isolation is a factor, especially now, Ms. Buergers said, and living on an island can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and a sense of physical and emotional remoteness.

To contact Ms. Buergers, email [email protected]

She deals with many concerns, including family and relationship issues; domestic violence; spouses adjusting to going forward without loved ones; mid-life relationship changes brought on by divorce and/or a desire to start over in more healthy relationships; eating disorders; substance abuse; and being caregivers to elderly parents.

She regularly phones Islanders who have sought her help to check on them, asking if their needs are being met, and directing them to town services that can help.

Ms. Buergers has become part of the Island’s team of officials that meets regularly to discuss issues and plans responses to the crisis. She has high praise for the town’s efforts so far to deal with the sudden events that have overwhelmed other, larger communities.

“The leadership has been wonderful and comforting to the community,” she said.

Many practical and emotional issues people have to deal with are still ongoing in people’s lives she said, and have to be addressed. Several older people, she said, who have adult children living elsewhere, are worried for them. “One woman, for example, has a son who is not an Islander and she’s really worried about him and his health,” she said.

Her advice is that the woman has to take time to think about herself, and not worry about things she can’t control. “The reality is that you can’t control someone who is not around,” she said.

The high cost of living on the Island is a stress factor to individuals and couples who sometimes have to face the wrenching decision of leaving their Island homes to go where living is more reasonable for their incomes. Many are now laid off and struggling

She recently counseled a couple in their 40s who have left, offering support and encouragement, which eased the burden of separation, she said.

Ms. Buergers counsels people who are experiencing anxiety to practice stress-reducing techniques, such as meditation and mindfulness programs, which can help emotionally and improve overall health conditions.

“I advise people to call people, to stay in touch,” she said. “And help others, deliver food or a package to a neighbor’s porch. It will help them. And help you.”

The social worker is holding online forums for people for connection and discussion with others. The first was last Tuesday.

“A man from New York City who has been here three weeks said he got to speak with,connect and meet people,” she said. “He’s also volunteering.”

The next online forum with the social worker is Tuesday, April 7 at 7 p.m. To become part of the discussion, contact Ms. Buergers at [email protected]