Monthly Archives: July 2016

Training in Tampa, FL this September!

Don’t forget to register for our child life specific Children’s Disaster Services training in Tampa, FL on September 10th sponsored by the Florida Association of Child Life Professionals.  The seven hour training will include:

  • Children’s Disaster Services overview–nurturing children, equipping volunteers, supporting families, communities, and partners (especially Red Cross, FEMA, and local agencies)
  • Creating a picture of disaster–phases of disaster, response agencies and organizations, impact on survivors o Responding to children after disaster–using our Kit of Comfort; working with volunteers with a common workshop experience, while at the same time having diverse educational background and life experience
  • Working as part of a CDS team–setting up a center in a MARC or shelter; policies, procedures, and best practices; logistics of travel, expenses, in-processing/out-processing; certification; self care/team care
  • Leadership opportunities with Children’s Disaster Services: Critical Response Child Care, Project Manager, Rapid Response leadership

For more information and to register visit: , click on the PDF link for “mail in registration“, and follow instructions for payment.

We look forward to seeing you there!
The Child Life Disaster Relief team

How to Talk to Our Kids about The Recent Events

CLICK ON THE IMAGE for the article: "How Are We Going to Talk to Our Kids About The Nice Attacks?"
CLICK ON THE IMAGE for the article: “How Are We Going to Talk to Our Kids About The Nice Attacks?”

Is anyone else aching over what’s been happening these last several weeks?  There’s no simple answer or explanation for any of the recent events.  They are each horrific and beyond comprehension.  Here’s an article (click on the image above) we found that does an excellent job putting into words the importance of talking with kids and some guidelines for how to do that.

Some of us have heard first-hand from kids how they can gather information from conversations they overhear, news reports they see, and magazine covers they see/read as they pass by or wait in line.  Unless a trusted adult or parent brings up the topic, the child will often stay silent and try to make sense of it all on their own or in brief conversations with peers.  This can result in increased fears and misconceptions.

Let’s make sure kids know that they can talk with their parent or trusted adult about these serious and confusing issues.


Day 7: Packin’ Up and Headin’ Home

Today was our last day in the LAC. Lake Isabella, Kernville, Squirrel Valley and South Lake will forever hold a place close to my heart. These towns have such a strong sense of community and I will always be thankful for my time spent there.

The LAC had so many different resources present to provide to any individual impacted from this fire. Anything ranging from replacing your social security card and birth certificate to therapy dogs (which I obviously made quick friends with). Image-1


We were all just one giant team working together to hopefully ease some of the stress and anxiety that comes with recovering from a disaster.

One mother shared with me her sincere appreciation of Red Cross support and all other services provided. She stated, “It won’t replace what we lost, but it will give us a new start.” I think that’s exactly what we all hoped for, to positively impact these individuals and help them start their personal recovery process.

This was the sign in front of the elementary school where the LAC was located

I also need brag on my CDS team! We had such a dynamic group of individuals with experiences ranging from recreation therapy, early childhood education and child life. We truly had an amazing team.

Rhonda, Kim, Me, and Patty from CDS
Rhonda, Kim, Me, and Patty from CDS

Earlier in the week, during dramatic play, one child stated: “There was chaos everywhere, but they escaped with the greatest treasure of all; friendship and teamwork.” (Seriously, these kids were just that incredible!)

Thank you California for welcoming us with open arms and letting us be a part of your beautiful cities and state.


Thank you all for following and for all of the love and support. Continue to keep all of the individuals impacted from the Erskine Fire in your thoughts as they continue this recovery process.

Much love,


Day 6: Story Telling

I have been so fortunate to have heard so many of these children’s “stories”. Some children come running into the center and yell, “Stupid Fire!” And then immediately engage in play. Some children express minor details of the fire during dramatic play and then quickly state, “And that’s the end of that story.” While other children sit and tell you every detail of their experience. I again, cannot truly express how fortunate I feel to be able to be that listening ear.

One school-aged child verbalized every loss she experienced and truly went full-circle in her story telling. She informed me of every detail leading up to the fire, the suddenness of the fire, her fears/worries, the items they grabbed running out the IMG_6515door, and the deep loss they experienced. She went even further to express her excitement of finalizing a home for them to stay in and how happy she was to finally have her own room (she has a family full of brothers!!). She told her entire story, all while intently focusing on making a very detailed rubber band bracelet.  This young girl came very prepared to the LAC, with an activity bag provided from her community. She would have been perfectly “occupied” the entire visit had she not visited our center. However, I cannot help but think, how emotionally safe and protected she must have felt in order to tell us her entire story. For this, I am so thankful that the disaster community values the importance of play and a protected environment for children. I am relieved seeing children already processing their stories using so many different modalities of play and expression. I hope these children and families continue to receive all of the support, care and resources that they need.

Here are just a few of the other “stories” I heard today…

IMG_6539 IMG_6549


Day 5: Quality vs. Quantity

This is such a common phrase used in the field of Child Life. We have been seeing significantly low numbers here in the Local Assistance Center (LAC) since setting up, however, I don’t think that has anything to say in relation to the quality of interventions provided. Almost all of the children we have seen have lost their entire homes. Everything is gone. However, their spirit, playfulness, smiles, character, laughs, and personalities have been shining through in full force.

I wish I could sit here and type forever to tell you about all of their stories… Some day…So let me tell you about one of my new friends!

The first thing that popped into my head was, “Wow, what an adorable outfit!” I immediately paused and thought, probably because the outfit is brand new as her parents had to purchase all new clothes. IMG_6504 Every interaction with these children and families truly provides me with a better understanding of the massive loss these individuals endure. This little girl spent hours with us in our center and I quickly became her “big sister”…what a special title to earn! Long story short, when her mother arrived to pick her up, we informed her that she had eaten a slice of pizza, animal cookies, and drank a bottle of water. Her mother was so incredibly happy and informed us that her little girl hasn’t eaten much in the past couple of days and had lost her appetite. What an amazing thing to be able to provide food, safety, comfort, and play.
I am forever grateful for this opportunity and to have been able to meet all of these children and families.
Until tomorrow,

Day 4: The Power of Play!

Today was unbelievable. I again struggle to put into words what we experienced today. Children are so resilient and always seem to surprise me in many different ways.

I want to share with you all one story that puts into perspective what we are here to provide. This young boy was sitting at the table with us playing and building play-doh. His mother was just around the barrier and was telling a fellow volunteer their story. Their story was unbelievable and something that no individual should ever have to endure. They lost everything. As she is communicating with us, the little boy pauses and says, “Mom, can you please go away, we are trying to play.” image1

It appears at this time he was not ready or willing to hear their story spoken out loud again. What he needed most at this time was play. The opportunity to express himself, in a developmentally appropriate and therapeutic manner…which was not verbal or outspoken conversation…but simply play! Through his play, this child was able to process and express more then I ever anticipated in this short time together. I’m thankful for the power of open-ended, child-directed play to support these children in coping through and processing this very stressful and challenging situation.

I feel so honored that this community has allowed us to provide support to these children and families in any way we can. It is such a privilege to be able to be that listening ear and playful peer. My deepest sympathies go out to everyone who has been affected by this tragic fire.


– Paula

Day 3: Happy 4th of July!

4We celebrated the 4th of July a little different than I usually do…(no fireworks).

The children that we did see lost everything, their entire home. Their mother was present attempting to organize the final details of them transitioning to their new home. I think the photo below captures a lot more then words can explain.2 Patty (our team manager) was the one who noticed the three Sheriffs in the background and the stark difference beyond our barrier where the children were playing. I think this photo displays what our entire goal and mission is: to provide safe, expressive, play opportunities that allows kids to just be kids. I am hopeful that we see more children tomorrow, however, that’s the reality of the disaster world. You must be available to provide support, however, you never know what the needs are or what to expect.

The Red Cross also gave us a half day off today! We are forever grateful that we were able to explore some of this beautiful state and community. Below is a photo of our incredible CDS team at the Sequoia National Parks. 3

Until tomorrow…


Day 2: Perspective

FullSizeRenderI can honestly say now that I have a completely different perspective on what happens when a disaster strikes. I have been trying to put into words what this first day has been like and I am having a much more challenging time than anticipated.

I think all I want to say right now is “Thank You.”

Pink Ribbon
The pink ribbon signifies a home that has been completely destroyed or a home with significant damage.

Thank you to the fire fighters and first responders who risk their lives everyday to save people, pets, homes, and communities. Thank you to the volunteers and staff members who dedicate their time to help people recover from disasters. I have been nothing but astounded by the amount of genuinely kind-hearted people that I have met, who have come from across the country, to help this community return to a normal state of health, mind and strength. Thank you!


Day 1: Heading West

airportToday consisted of travel, travel and more travel! Everything went very smooth.  We are so fortunate to partner with some unbelievable organizations that help to make these volunteer trips a reality.

The Red Cross and Children’s Disaster Services organized all travel plans. I simply had to be flexible and be at the right place, at the right time! One of my fellow CDS volunteers shared with me today, that as long as you are flexible, you will never be bent out of shape! Which was obviously very relatable to our 14-hour travel day and this entire trip!

I still don’t have many more details at this time. I know that the fire has been 85-90% contained, which I hope can ease some of the stress and worry of those already impacted by this disaster. I hope the children and families continue to gather all of the support and resources needed to recover from this disaster and can soon return back to a new normal.

Stay tuned for more updates!


Minnesota Child Life Specialist Deploying to CA Wildfires

Kern fire 1 Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times

Tomorrow I head off to Kernville, CA to provide support to the children and families affected by the Erskine fires. I have been feeling a range of different emotions since I finally received confirmation of my travel plans; (excited, eager, nervous, honored, and extremely grateful that I have this opportunity). I’ve already figured out that the disaster world is an ever-changing environment with last-minute decisions. Things can happen on a moment’s notice and the willingness to be flexible is crucial. It seems that I should already be prepared for the constant changes, new updates, and constant ups and downs (since working in health care for multiple years), however, the disaster world is an entirely new world for me that I’m learning one step at a time.

I am so thankful that I have the support of my incredible Child Life team and supervisor, without their support, this trip would not be happening. My incredibly supportive husband is also another crucial piece to this puzzle. Without his constant encouragement and support, I’m not sure I would be on a plane to California tomorrow. Having these individuals truly understand the importance of the role of Child Life in these situations, and be nothing but supportive and encouraging, has been a huge aspect of me saying, “Absolutely!” when I received the phone call to help. I’m also thankful to have a great team of individuals serving with me on the Children’s Disaster Services team, I can already tell I have an amazing group of people to work with!

As for now, things that need to happen…packing! I have no idea what to expect when arriving to the shelter. I do know that we will be staying in the shelter with all of the individuals affected by the disaster. I have been informed that this means sleeping on Red Cross cots (which is apparently a new experience in and of itself) and lots of snoring! I’m somewhat nervous and apprehensive about being the second team deployed to CA. I’m hopeful that there will still be a true need for our services and that we can positively impact the children involved. I truly have no idea what to expect from here. What I do know is that I fly out tomorrow morning, and am open and ready to provide whatever support is needed to the children and families affected by these ongoing wild fires.

Stay tuned!