Gail is a retired CCLS with over 40 years experience working in the field. Here is her deployment story.
September 2017 was a time of relentless weather and disastrous devastation.
I was on the Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) roster to be deployed to Texas after hurricane Harvey. Then I was switched to a roster for hurricane Irma in Florida. With suitcase packed and ready, I finally was assigned to my original location of Texas, but now under FEMA.
With so many families in recovery centers needing support, FEMA requested children’s disasters services’ help. They donned us “Harvey’s Heroes” which we had to put on all of our documents as FEMA responders. We knew that FEMA was the real hero who recognized an additional service for family assistance was needed for children. At the Beaumont Camp, they welcomed us as an integrated part of their extensive team. We even had a local Child Life Specialist certified with CDS travel over an hour from Houston to help us for a day when we needed it most. (Thanks, Caley Johns!)
It was interesting to see the next phase of the disaster system. After most of the shelters were closed, an abandoned Goodwill Center was transformed into a resource center to help families rebuild their lives from ground zero.
A central room became our play center. Stations of FEMA resources were set up surrounding the room with areas for insurance, housing, post-disaster tips, job opportunities, etc. Computer stations for intake and other support services were plentiful.
Parents’ relief was apparent when they saw our play area where their children would be safely supervised and supported, while they spent hours trying to put the pieces of their lives together.
As with each deployment, we observed the value of children’s play. Our cardboard “train” made of boxes was used as a travel vehicle and a food delivery truck for the hungry. One 4 year old used it as a moving vehicle to relocate the baby dolls, their beds and all of their accessories to a new location in the room. She nodded as I talked about all the helpers that get families through hard times after a storm. Lots of medical emergency vehicles also prompted several child-lead medical play opportunities.
I not only valued my great CDS teammates, but found my living arrangements in a deployment camp very enriching. A small city for responders is literally set up in three days with sleeping quarters, recreation tents, workout equipment, showers, food tent, laundry facilities etc. One night, a national singing group on tour, “The Sidewalk Prophets” came to our camp to give responders a private concert.
It renewed my hope in mankind, as I witnessed so many wonderful people coming together to help those in need.
Thank you for this privilege to be part of it.