Making Play Out of Anything after Hurricane Matthew – Kelsey Loftus

Our day was filled with lots of adventures from lost GPS signals to unknown place to be and unknown location for staying the night. Once it was all figured out where we would be going, we hit the road. We were told we were going to the fairgrounds. The fairgrounds consisted of a shelter with families from the tribal community and is also in a “dangerous” area.  We also headed off to a second shelter to see if our services would be needed there as well. We were maybe inside for a few seconds when we were approached by some of the kids and quickly became friends.  Here was a group of kids that had just had a traumatic experience, were uprooted from their homes, and were playing and “just being kids”.  I followed their lead as they wanted to put on costumes for Halloween.  Some kids had costumes or parts of costumes to use but one was crying because he didn’t have anything.  I helped him go around and ask if anyone had anything we could use for a costume and we creatively made it happen.  Although they weren’t going out for trick or treat, as probably most had planned before Hurricane Mathew hit, they still put on their costumes with a big smile on their face.

Later, we set up a play space at the first shelters, and at 1pm we were open! The kiddos started trickling in. We weren’t sure how the turn out would be because the tribe does not like to interact with the government, so the shelter manager had warned us that they may not be welcoming. However, we experienced just the opposite. Parents were extremely grateful for us and the opportunity to take a break and engage in self-care.  We had about 10 kids in the room although it felt like more than that at times.  Through my interactions with the kids I could tell they were having a difficult time. The kiddos all shared the fact that they wanted/needed one on one attention and had lots of aggression.

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One of the kids, Sam (not his real name), and I quickly became buddies. There was a big box laying out on the floor that the kiddos could use however they wanted, but Sam didn’t see it as a box. He saw it was a firehouse and that is exactly what it became. We took some scissors and made a front door, took a blanket for the top of the box to make the roof, and even had a secret pass word for the door to become unlocked. Next thing I knew, we were running around putting out fires left and right. Another child named Kyle (not his real name) quickly joined in on the fun too. Sam was the firefighter, Kyle the police man, and I was the assistant. We were quite the team. Our firehouse also turned into the firetruck so that we could get to the fires quickly. Once all the fires had been taking care of, our fire house turned into the hospital. Both Sam and Kyle were the doctors. Apparently, I had a very bad fever and needed lots of shots. But, after that I was all better. Thanks to the amazing doctors.

After a while, I noticed Sam appeared to be getting bored and disengaged. So, I worked with him to figure out an activity that he would be interested in, basketball. I found a bucket with a handle that became the basketball hoop once attached to the fence. We used a koosh ball as the basketball and after that it was game on.

All the kids had a blast and told their parents how much fun they had. They all couldn’t wait to return tomorrow morning, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings too.

-Kelsey Loftus

(Sorry for the lack of pictures!  There are strict picture regulations on this deployment.)