Stephanie Michel- Hurricane Harvey Deployment

My first deployment is officially complete!

When I first heard about the Children’s Disaster Services training through Child Life Disaster Relief I couldn’t wait to get trained… little did I know I would get deployed less than 6 months later!  I was able to make arrangements at work and at home and then learned I was set to fly from my home in Dallas to Atlanta to Houston. I didn’t completely understand my flight plans, but I figured there was a method to the madness. When I arrived in Atlanta, I met with the other CDS volunteers and learned our flight to Houston was cancelled. It was still too dangerous for us to deploy to Houston. So, there we were in the Atlanta airport watching the news on what was happening in Houston. It was at that point that I reminded myself to be flexible and just “go with the flow.”

Our project manager explained having so many changes in flights doesn’t typically happen, but we were deployed while the storm was still active which deterred our plans. After traveling from Dallas that morning at 9am, and waiting in the Atlanta airport for hours, we landed instead in San Antonio around 12am. The first day of deployment was solely dedicated to traveling and getting to know members of my team! Our second day of deployment was focused on checking in with the Red Cross headquarters and finding out what shelter we would be going to. Once the Red Cross staff/volunteers saw some CDS shirts and learned what we were there to provide, they continued to express how much we would be needed at the shelters.

When we arrived at our shelter the first step was to set up our play space. We used tables and cardboard boxes to section off our space. While we were setting up we caught the eye of many kiddos wanting to play, and we let them know we would be opening soon!  When it was time to open, the children we played with were so sweet and excited to play. Our play space was in a great location. If the parents/caregivers desired, they could easily walk by to see what their child was doing, which I think provided a much needed sense of security.

When we arrived the next day, we were more prepared to set up our center and open up quickly because we already knew the layout.  It was a great day of play, but then we got a surprise… at the very end of our second day we learned that our shelter with a capacity of 300 was closing and that we would be moving to a mega shelter with the capacity of over 2300. We didn’t know what to expect with moving to a “mega shelter.” There were so many questions that wouldn’t be answered until we arrived to our new location. What was our new space going to look like? How many children are at this location? What are the rules for this shelter? While we didn’t know what to expect for the new shelter we just had to wait. Again, practicing our patience and flexibility!

The next morning we got to the mega shelter and worked to set up.  Our new play space was in a room with a door, which was completely different than the first shelter. This play space was bigger, but the location was not as convenient for parents to walk by and see their children like the first shelter. Each shelter had challenges of their own, but we worked together to be creative and meet the needs of the kiddos. After getting set up in our new shelter we were open for business! There were a few interactions that specifically resonated with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 6yo boy that chose not to verbally communicate with anyone. Although he wasn’t talking I told him I would paint with him if he desired, but he had to let me know with thumbs up or down if he wanted a painting buddy. He gave me thumbs up and we painted a house together with no verbal communication. I think he initially thought I wouldn’t play with him if he didn’t communicate, but he learned that I was going to play with him even if he didn’t want to talk!
  • 4yo boy I met at the mega shelter asked me if I was at the shelter because I had a hurricane at my house too. I explained to him that I didn’t have a hurricane, but that I came from my house to play with him and the other children in the shelter. During our time together we spent quite a bit of time in the dramatic play area. We played in a cardboard box that was a “house.” While we played together, he had an idea for us to take turns getting stuck in the house until the community helpers (fireman, policeman, construction worker and doctor) came to save us and help us get out of the house.
  • 6yo girl I met at shelter #1. She was very outgoing, and easily attached to me over the course of two days. Her younger brother and sister also joined our center. She and I played with just about every item in our center! Specifically she asked me to read “The Magic School Bus Presents Wild Weather” and we talked about her hurricane experience. She shared with me that she was a little scared of the hurricane, but she was afraid of what she saw on TV. I validated her feelings and then she was ready to move on to play with something else. We spent quite a bit of time together each day. After finding out we were no longer returning to shelter #1 I couldn’t help but think about what she was going to think when we didn’t show up the next day. The second day in the mega shelter I was shocked to see her walk through the door in our new play area. Her family had also been moved to the mega shelter!  She ran up to me and hugged me and I was overwhelmed. She asked why we left the other shelter and I did my best to explain to her that we didn’t know the other shelter was closing either but that we were excited that she was here to play with us again. That interaction really resonated with me because it made me think of how many changes in one week these children and families have been through. This family evacuated their home, moved into two different shelters, and then were moved into temporary housing. That is a significant amount of change for a child to experience and process.

 

My deployment experience taught me so much about myself as a person and Child Life Specialist. As a person, I truly stepped out of my comfort zone leaving my husband, family and job to volunteer with CDS and people that I’ve never met for a week. As a Child Life Specialist, working in the Emergency Room, I rarely have the time to play with my patients or facilitate group play activities. It was great to spend time playing with children and allowing them to play out what they experienced. If I could have stayed longer I definitely would in a heartbeat! The strangers I met on my team now feel like extended family members. I am so thankful for the training opportunity through Child Life Disaster Relief to become a Children’s Disaster Services volunteer. This deployment truly changed my appreciation for play, being flexible, exercising patience and pushing me to out of my comfort zone.

-Stephanie Michel