Tracy Fredericks: “Something about this place”
There seem to be several familiar scenarios in people’s stories of why or how they’ve come to settle on Block Island. Some have arrived first as youngsters with their families, filling the ranks of summer kids; others have worked here summers between college semesters.
For Tracy Fredericks, both of the above are true. Brought up in Winsor, Conn., during her youth her family always came to Watch Hill, Rhode Island, from which they would sail over on their boat — mooring in the Great Salt Pond, spending most of their summers on island. Today, she is a familiar face on the island, and is a caseworker for the Block Island chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and is also a member of the Block Island Rescue Squad.
While in college — pursuing a major in psychology and a minor in environmental studies at Purdue University — she spent summers working here. “After graduation,” she said, “I did end up living here for about four years.” Though she intended to go on to graduate school, the island had already begun to draw her in. She found herself making friends, finding a more casual way of living here and beginning to fall in love with the island.
Eventually, she moved to New Hampshire where she entered a graduate program in environmental studies at the University of New Hampshire. While living in southern Maine, she worked at the Seacoast Science Center in New Hampshire where she was Special Projects Director. There she did everything from grant writing, working as a computer networker, and developing a naturalist program to working on National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration-funded projects.
After close to eight very busy years passed, Fredericks says, “Life changed and I decided to move back again to the island. I was ready to make a change.” She adds, “You fall in love with a place... and there is something about this place that keeps bringing you back. I did have friends here, and I liked that it was a small community.”
You live at a crazy pace
Now after living here for nine years, she concedes the somewhat frenetic nature of life on the island. “It’s a bit of a crazy place to live — you live at a crazy pace: [to support yourself] you go from five jobs in the summer to two or three in winter.” She said she’s worked and continues to work on “a number of different things.” These include waitressing, house-checking, catering and gardening.
For a year, she also was assigned by AmeriCorps to work for Block Island Economic Development (BIED). In that role, she was given different kinds of work: helping people with heating assistance and with writing job resumes. She was sent off-island for training several times. Once it was for a week-long program in Minneapolis where she had training in running many kinds of groups — sponsored by federal and local grants — learning to work with persons of many backgrounds and differing ethnicities.
“I worked in a number of groups on confidence-building and I also trained with FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Administration) in setting up disaster relief programs,” she said.
Licensed as an Emergency Medical Technician, Fredericks has been serving on the (Block Island ) Rescue Squad for a year, which she loves, and she continues to be as busy as always. For the last two years, she has taken on the position of case worker of the Telemedicine Program run by NAMI-RI (formerly the Mental Health Task Force) and Butler Hospital.
She processes inquiries, acquaints clients with the logistics of the program and introduces them to the physicians who will work with them. The program was set up to allow individuals wishing to discuss issues with a physician, but unable to get off island to have face-to-face sessions, over a specially designed computer program.
Two physicians at Brown and Butler have been largely responsible for developing the program, and Fredericks meets with them regularly to manage it, helping to tailor it to the specific needs of the island and islanders. In addition to her work with clients on island, she also is enrolled in a training program — attending six-hour classes every week.
In those classes she has been learning ways to help people navigate applications for disability insurances, learning about new psycho-tropic drugs that are available, about new state laws on mental illness and about changes in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5).
One of the primary challenges of the post is to be able to assure patients of the complete confidentiality of their interactions with her and of their sessions with physicians. Fredericks feels very strongly about the value of the telemedicine program, noting “For the people who are using it, it’s been an asset to the island.”
She also works as a case worker for South County Mental Health Center through which organization she assists in bringing a counselor to the island to work directly with patients every other week. She is hopeful that both the telemedicine and direct therapy programs will expand to serve the needs of more islanders. Anyone wishing to contact Fredericks may do so at (207) 229-6349.
As an avid runner, Fredericks said that “the island is a good place to be. I can run here for two hours a day, every day.” And she means it, explaining, “I go out in all kinds of weather. The snow storms never stop me!”
Never tiring of the terrain or the views, she adds, “The other day I was at the beach and looking around I realized just how lucky I am to live in this beautiful place and to be making [the island] my home.”