Monthly Archives: June 2013

2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes – Goodbyes

Several of us went through the Red Cross “out processing” early this morning. We had to do a bunch of paperwork, etc. but it was much simpler than the in-processing on the first day.  As a parting gift, the Red Cross gave us each a huge hat with MILLER LIGHT on it. We have no idea why…
Then we spent the rest of the day with the kids– our last day with them.
We had a 13 year old with us today and her and I talked about silly things and serious things. She gave me a very detailed lesson on how to make enchiladas:

Including demonstrations with play-dough. She also said, “ok let me tell you all about the tornado from the beginning”. She talked about “running” from it in her uncle’s truck and seeing the tornado behind them picking up and throwing cars. She talked about several incredible details from this experience and her responsibility to stay calm for all her 6 younger siblings while getting separated from their parents during the chaos. Then we went back to our cooking lesson.  We had a good time together and she even asked me, “are you ghetto? Because I am”. I love it that the answer to that wasn’t obvious to her! Haha!

It was a great way to end. 🙂
Then we did what we do every night after closing….clean up. But this time we cleaned up knowing the next CDS group was taking over in the morning.


It’s been an amazing time here. A privilege.
The kids were the reason and the best part of it all, but my team was also pretty extraordinary.
Thanks to you all for following me on this experience. My hope is that you are catching this fever because there’s so much more to be done for the kids here and future disaster-situations.
Lastly, we joined Pearl in her art of TP-ing, which she insists she doesn’t normally do- and we left our leader, John, a small gift (this one not sponsored by Miller Light).
The End.

2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes- Day Off

Since disasters don’t recognize weekends, we are each required to take a day off at some point. Mine was today.

Yesterday, I could tell I was getting worn out because I was ready to leave by the end of the day instead of wanting to stay and play. It makes me sad though because soon this will be over and I won’t have the option to stay and play anymore.

Even though I needed this day off, it’s hard to not be with the kids. It has seriously been an honor and so much fun.
My team had 60 kids total today and were able to have some significant interactions. Wish I had been there with them all, but so appreciative of a little break.
My flight has officially been scheduled and I leave early Friday morning to get back to work Friday night.
CDS has been working hard to pull together the team to replace us per Red Cross request.  It sounds like it has been difficult to get enough CDS volunteers this time around and some of my current teammates are considering extending their time here a couple days to try to help out as long as possible.
And THANK YOU to my team of amazing child life specialists at Cincinnati Children’s who stepped in with short notice to cover my shifts for these two weeks so I could be here.  I know the realities of the stress that caused them and I appreciate their support in this more than they know!
Who’s ready to go with me next time??
And one more picture tonight, since I have your attention….  LOOK AT MY CUTE NEPHEW, Ezra!!!

I mean SERIOUSLY!!!!!!

2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes- Best CDS Picture Award

We had the priveledge of front row seats to a concert today.

This little girl belted out her original songs for quite a while!  Most of the words we couldn’t get but at one point she was singing about “listening to my mama!”  She threw in a couple dance moves too.

Pearl still found the energy at the end of the day today to meet this little boy where he was (literally) and let him lead their play together:

They sat in this bin (we’ve been running short on cardboard boxes) for a long time just talking and reading. I’m pretty sure this picture should win some sort of CDS award. It’s definitely my favorite!!

Late tonight we went back to the elementary school where 6 kids and 1 teacher died. We added one of our uniform shirts to the fence. We all wrote a little and signed it. The 7 crosses each had a light on top of them and it was definitely something to see that in the dark and quiet night.


While we were there, a car pulled up and we started talking to the guy. Turns out he is 20 and lived across the street from the school. He asked if we wanted to see his house and we saw a muddy spot with a lot of debris. He talked about his experience and the neighbors who died. He said he just keeps driving here to see it…can’t seem to stay away.
Makes sense to me.
It’s going to be hard to leave in a couple days…

2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes- Food Before Play

INSANE!  That’s what today was!  We were overloaded with kids and had a waiting list and all the kids were super hyped-up!  We had a record number of 63 kids total by closing time.

I took a short break to swollow some food in a different part of the building and I was shocked to see all the kids there who weren’t in our play space. There were kids everywhere!   Their parents were maybe scared away from dropping their kids off with us because of the chaos!  (I feel bad about that!)
During our time here, we’ve come across several stories of families living in unthinkable conditions. This morning we had a group of siblings who all clearly needed baths and they went straight for the play-food. They only played for a few minutes before asking for something to eat and I spent the next 45 minutes or so at the snack table getting them whatever they asked for and cleaning up several spilled cups as they ate quicker than I’ve ever seen. It clearly was something they needed before going back to playing. I was amazed at how much they ate.

(The moment was too busy for a picture but this picture is from a much calmer time and kind-of illustrates it… sort of)

So, it was decided today that CDS needs a third team here and they are working on making that happen right now before we all leave the end of this week.
To end tonight, here is a picture of John, our CDS program manager relaxing with a therapy dog. These dogs show up every so often and we let them in for the kids.
This picture was taken this past weekend during a quiet time. It’s seriously hard to think that we ever had quiet moments in this space after the crazy day we had today!! But here’s proof!

2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes-Ice Cream Designers

We had a slower day for the most part today so I want to take this chance to give you an idea of our play center. Patty took these pictures early one morning before opening time.
Most of our supplies come from large suit cases CDS calls “Kits of Comfort”:

In these suit cases are toys geared toward providing child-lead play opportunities and include emergency vehicle toys, doctor-kits, blocks, construction toys, etc.

From these, and whatever else we can find, we set up our play area. During the Joplin tornado last year, the company Creative Playthings decided they want to start helping CDS out at each disaster and they donated a tun of things for our play space here in Oklahoma. The colorful gate/wall in the pictures is from them as we’ll as some shelving and toys. My teammates say they have normally just constructed some sort of walls with whatever they can find on other disaster trips (cardboard boxes, chairs, tables on their sides,etc). So this is luxury!

We can’t travel with the things from Creative Playthings so there is already a plan of where we will be donating them here in the community when we leave.  And from what I understand Creative Playthings is planning on continuing to donate to CDS during each disaster. Pretty cool!

A couple days ago we also constructed a basketball area which has been a huge hit. See the hoop??
For all you child life specialists, we have been doing a lot of child-directed medical play. Here is a medical team working hard to get a “tiger” out of Kathy’s ear. Good thing this little girl is wearing her medical glasses!

And on a side note….I’m realizing there’s one constant life-stressor for me that has been nonexistent on this trip and I’m loving it!!  It’s not having to plan or cook my own food!  The Red Cross takes care of our breakfasts and dinners and the Salvation Army makes all our lunches in the center every day. It’s simply heaven for me. My teammate Kathy and I have become (as she describes it) ice cream designers. We get really into a very calculated plan for our deserts each night- how much and when to add hot fudge, etc.  I can’t describe to you the joy this brings me!! 

(BTW Ignore the fruit in the background…this moment’s all about ice cream toppings.) The food service people know us well by now and I’m not sure I want to leave this!!

2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes- TP Retaliation

I feel like I’m kind of over-it with all the devistation around us. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it’s all still here and I don’t like it!  And why is it that it seemed worse than ever this morning?!  Everything just looked so terrible. My new team-mate Kathy who has lots of experience with other disasters said it might just be because today was such gloomy weather.  It just seemed like the buildings and cars were extra aweful today.

I feel guilty that part of me just wants to get away from seeing it all. Of course lots of the people who live here don’t have that option.  This must be the start of the “survivor’s guilt” that Pearl and Patty have talked about feeling after returning home from different trips.

But Patty sent me a picture text of Pearl’s TP retaliation on Patty’s door this morning which made me laugh out loud. She made it so pretty!!

 –and with that, the day began looking better than our gloomy morning.  Leave it to awesome team-mates to get you back up and ready to play!

It was a quieter day over-all today with the kids, with only a few moments of kid-chaos.
One older boy in the center just seemed like he needed/wanted to talk and he described his experience with the tornado easily as we painted pictures. He and his family stayed safe in a neighbor’s storm shelter with a lot of other neighbors. He talked about what it was like to come out of the shelter after the storm and see his whole neighborhood destroyed. He talked about specific things that were damaged or destroyed and what wasn’t damaged at all. He also talked about how much he loves his new, super comfortable bed in their new house (temporary house while they make plans to re-build). I found out later that mom was concerned about him because he wasn’t talking about it.
During one of the moments of chaos this morning, I brought in a few extra card-board boxes and it created almost immediate calm.
Here’s Jane peeking inside one. The most rowdy kids at that moment all climbed in these boxes (even tho some boxes were pretty small) and they were content and even quiet for a time. Still so amazing to me what effect these boxes have for the kids!
There are so many great stories from today. I just have to say again that this team I’m working with is amazing. I feel so honored to be apart of it and so grateful for all I’m learning through them.
Thanks team!

2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes- Sigh!

Week one is completed and I’m exhausted!  What’s the best way to end week one? Getting moved to a hotel with our own rooms and bathrooms!! It’s amazing how good that feels!

Patty and I TP’d Pearl’s door and now it’s time to crash.
More kid stories another night. 🙂

2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes-Missing Photos

This morning I was able to take some time and go to Oklahoma City Children’s Hospital and meet with the Child Life Manager, Erin. She gave me a really good idea of the tornado disaster from inside the hospital and how their child life department handled it.  It was an exciting conversation as we brainstormed  ideas for better solutions, etc.

They have an incredible play area in their hospital. I had to get a picture!:

From there, I ran to the Oklahoma City bombing memorial before hurrying back to the Center to meet back up with my CDS team.

You can see the individual chairs for each person who died on the left of this picture. And below is a fence with many of the items left to honor the victims:

I kept hearing how amazing that memorial is and I’m definitely glad I got to go see it even for short visit.

Once back in the center today, we spent a lot of time with play dough.  My teammate Patty was able to support a child today in a way that was too special to put into words. She saw beyond the anger this child was showing to the heart of her pain and she met her there with the perfect amount of support and love.  It was quite a moment.
One thing I found interesting:

People are able to drop off pictures they find so that the pictures can hopefully be reunited with their owners. These pictures in this bag were dirty and torn and stained, but they just might be someone’s prized memories. I love it that someone has made this a priority and will try to reunite people with these memories.

Two big things I’m looking forward to tomorrow:   1. Our new teammate jumping in (she arrived here tonight) and  2. Doing some laundry!!!

2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes- Broken Cracker?

Our team:

Jane, Patty, Myrna, me, and Pearl. (Vivian and John are missing from this picture.) We had another team-mate, Kerri who got pink eye and had to leave us and Myrna was only able to stay until yesterday.

We had about 50 kids today which is what we had last Friday when I first started. Looks for sure like our numbers are not going down!  So, since we are still seeing a large number of kids, we have a new team-mate being rushed in to help. 
When we walked in this morning I overheard a family saying that they had just found out about this disaster center from a neighbor and they had no idea there was a place to come for help. We heard from a cop the other day that the publicity has been insufficient and there are many people who are just finding out about the disaster center this week. It’s just amazing how many people still need so much help.

There were so many great stories from today. The kids are still loving the cardboard boxes and reenacting the tornado and rebuilding.

Here’s a roof a kid put on his house:
At one point today, I went over to a brother and sister (sister is 6 and brother is 2). The sister and I had been doing puzzles for a while (re-building and putting pieces back together) and then they were eating a snack. The boy looked at me and randomly said, “broken”. I said,”what?” And he repeated it: “broken”. I asked him, “what’s broken?” Thinking maybe the cracker in his hand was broken, but he didn’t respond. His sister waited a minute and then said that her brother was talking about their house because “our house broke in the tornado”. She went on to tell me more details and said she wasn’t at home when it happened because she was at Plaza Towers school (the one destroyed) hiding in the bathroom. We talked for a little while about it and then spent more time playing. There were quite a few kids today that seemed to be really needing this play opportunity today.  Many of them were very serious during their play. It was a day proving the definition of play:: the work of children.
But before I go, you need to know that today is Pearl’s 68th birthday!  I suggested we go swinging to celebrate before we left this morning. Patty and Pearl introduced me to swinging songs! Who knew!!  And Pearl said, “that was just marvelous!” when we left. 

2013 Oklahoma Tornadoes- Dragon’s Teeth!

I really wanted to go see the hospital that was hit by the tornado. So, here it is:

It’s just hard to imagine all the staff and patients who were in there and what it was like for them. Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt.

This was next door to the hospital. Can you figure out what it was?


We had almost 15 more kids today than we did yesterday. So maybe things aren’t slowing down quite yet! I’m not sure!
It was another great day full of mostly construction, rebuilding, and demolishing-type play.
Here’s a picture though of a child’s drawing. Do you know what it is?
I sure didn’t until he told me. The yellow is a dragon and the blue is his teeth. The green and brown all around is the “hurricane”.
One more picture…

They’ve been giving these boxes out to families each day as they leave the center. Some families leave with several, and I found out today that they’re food boxes- MRE’s. Pretty interesting! I kind of want to see what they’re like!

And speaking of food, I have to tell you all that I ate 4 fruit roll-ups today while walking to the parking lot after finishing our busy day. 🙂