Monthly Archives: August 2016

Louisiana- Moving from One Shelter to Another

Are you guys like babysitters?

“Yes. That, and so much more, let me tell you more”…As child life specialists we are all too familiar with our ‘elevator speech,’ and are ready to try to summarize all that we do in approximately three sentences. This is nearly impossible and never enough for someone to understand the importance of what we do.

Similar to my Child Life elevator speech, I’ve been fortunate to offer an explanation of the support we, as Child Disaster Services volunteers, can provide to children and families in these shelters. Babysitters? Yes. We offer respite care to parents who need a break, and are juggling with the stresses of gathering all of the resources available to help them secure the next steps of rebuilding their lives. Child care? Sure. We offer a safe place for children to participate in play that supports their developmental needs. Therapist? Kind of. We use play as a therapeutic modality for kids to make sense of the disaster that has drastically impacted their life, while also helping them find ways to cope with the new changes to their every day life. Best job? You bet!

Over the past couple days my team of 4 has been working in one of the smaller shelters, which houses approximately 60 people. We’ve had 5 kids, two sets of siblings; three 7-9 year old boys and 3 and 6 year old girls. I can’t tell you how many games of UNO I have played, or how many delicious Play-doh food items I’ve eaten, but what I can tell you (and what you already know) is that play is a beautiful thing!

Each day we walk in the shelter we are greeted by smiling faces, and while we try to quickly set up our center each morning, they patiently wait at the table, periodically asking us when we are going to be open. Although our center may be small, it’s a place where these kids are in control, where they’re voices and feelings are heard and acknowledged, and where they have a space to play with other kids, in a more structured way. They love it. And so do I!

Here a couple pictures of the fun we have been having.


The kids have really enjoyed playing doctor, more structured games like UNO, Chess, and Monopoly, active play and puppets. Imaginary play with boxes have also been a hit! In the bottom left, this little boy wanted to make a “hospital shelter for sick people,” complete with an American flag and Christian flag (both of which were hung up in the shelter space). He also drew a picture of a doctor and patient with a thumbs up. The bottom right are the girls riding in a Camaro and Mustang. Can you find the 3 kids in the next picture?


We also found out yesterday that today was going to be the last day in this shelter 🙁 I felt so bad breaking the news to the kids that we weren’t going to be back because we have to move to another shelter. Instantly their faces dropped and they asked why. I tried to explain to them why but I know it has to be confusing to them, and I can’t help but think it’s another loss that they are experiencing. I feel guilty. Especially since two of the kids are celebrating birthdays in the next two day. But with the other CDS team leaving one of the bigger shelters, we are needed somewhere else. We were able to leave a couple of the toys and games that the birthday kids enjoyed playing with us, to keep and continue playing while we are gone. I was able to complete this handprint activity with one of the younger girls, using both of our handprints, as a closing activity.


Although this group has been small, and we have only been here a handful of days, these kids have made an impact on my experience, and I will miss them! It’s hard leaving, knowing that they are going to be there for several more days, without services from Children’s Disaster Services. I can’t help but hope they are able to move to one of the bigger shelters, where we CDS will be.

🙂 Brianna

First Day in Louisiana by Brianna

Brianna Pastewski has written about her first day for us all to share in her experience.  This is by no means a requirement for CLSs who deploy!  But we are so grateful that she is letting us all get a peak into this with her and grateful for the opportunity for the child life community to show her our support as she provides care to these children and families.

In her own words….

Hi everyone! I’m a CCLS from Michigan and completed the Children’s Disaster Services training in Cincinnati, OH back in October 2015. Almost a year later, I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity to deploy with CDS to Baton Rouge, LA to provide support to the children and families affected by the recent floods.

Deployment day consisted of flights, logistics, and unknowns. I met up with 8 other CDS certified volunteers at the Baton Rouge airport. From there, we made our way to The American Red Cross (ARC) headquarters. We got a little turned around and took a minor detour, finding ourselves in a neighborhood with giant piles of garbage on the streets. It was heartbreaking. Beds. TVs. Furniture. Flooring. Family heirlooms. Memories. Soaking wet, probably covered in mold, ruined and set out for garbage. This was our first look at some of the losses that this neighborhood has experienced.

Once we got back on track, we met with our CDS Project Manager at Headquarters, who had been working tirelessly all day to figure out our lodging and work assignments. With many staff shelters full, finding a place for all of the staff volunteers to sleep has been a challenge.

Before leaving, I learned that this would be a ‘hardship assignment,’ where lodging is limited and staff should prepare to sleep in staff shelters, on cots. Nervous about what to expect, but pumping myself up for a fun camp experience, I did not quite anticipate what I saw when I walked through the church shelter doors.

This is one of many staff shelters/housing…I don’t think we were expecting to get quite this cozy with our neighbors. However, it does put everything into perspective and it is pretty amazing when I think about the various backgrounds that these people come from and their unique roles…all here to help bring relief and support to the people affected by the floods. Truly incredible! (Even if it made for a challenging night sleep, ha!)

While we still do not know where we will be setting up and working tomorrow, we are all going to bed, excited to start working/playing with the kids!



Michigan CCLS joining the CDS team in LA!

We are excited to have a Michigan Certified Child Life Specialist joining the Children’s Disaster Services(CDS) teams in Louisiana!  Thus far the CDS teams have cared for over 165 children – keep up the great work!

We continue to keep all those recovering from this disaster in our thoughts and prayers as they continue to encounter the affect of this devastating flooding.

This image was shared by Children’s Disaster Services, demonstrating a structure built by two children in their play space, they called it a “Super Mega Tower, that the water can’t get in!”

CDS VA pic

Deployment Alert: Louisiana flooding Press Press


We are seeking CDS Certified volunteers to deploy immediately to the disastrous flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Just yesterday there were approximately 500 people in shelters and overnight that number has risen to over 5,000.  Please contact Kathy Fry-Miller ( if you are available to deploy anytime in the near future, beginning as soon as the next day or two, it would be helpful to put subject line “LA flooding deployment availability.”


National American Red Cross has also asked us to have teams on call the next several months as they prepare for a tough hurricane season compounded by the continuous floods we have experienced this year already!   If you could also send your potential availability for the next several months via e-mail to Kathy Fry-Miller ( we would greatly appreciate having your potential availability in the database, it would be helpful to put subject line “Availability Fall 2016.”

Thank you so much in advance for your response to these requests, especially the urgent one in Louisiana.  As always, feel free to contact Child Life Disaster Relief directly if you have further questions at