Category Archives: Deployment

“Did You Hear About the Hot Tub in a Tree…

…it’s in a graveyard? Everybody’s talking about it!”

This was perhaps one of my favorite quotes from our recent deployment in Oak Grove and Smithville, MO. It came out of nowhere while a CDS volunteer engaged in sensory play with a child who days prior survived an F3 tornado ripping the roof off her home.

While this child’s parents moved about the Multi Agency Resource Center (MARC) gaining assistance in putting life back together, she found a new friend and was eager to share what was the most interesting part of her day. Not that she lost most of her home and belongings, but rather the irony of a hot tub in a tree in a graveyard.  Amidst, all the loss, it was oddly reassuring to hear this girl speak so frankly about the “word on the street” and it seemed so appropriate for this type of humor to be utilized to connect to others in this stage of her recovery.

Photo credit: 41 Action News

Of course our interest was peaked and we had to find photographic proof later that evening.

As we drove out of the town that evening, peering out our car window was a bit different.  A disaster such as this was very difficult for us to come to grips with as the tornado seemed to strike at random, much like a hot tub perched above tombstones in a tree. One house was flattened while 50 feet away not a single shingle was lost on the neighbors roof. I can only imagine how it must have felt to walk outside after the storm.  One father I spoke with during the day talked about those first few minutes after the storm passed.  “Once my son and I reoriented and realized we were safe, our first few thoughts were of devastation regarding the broken windows and blown out wall in our living room.  However, that quickly passed and we recognized just how lucky we were. I told my son we were lucky to be alive and we had to go help those around us that were hit even worse.  Never did I ever think I would look out  into my backyard at 3am and see people just scrambling through debris searching for treasured items and loved ones.”  Luckily, for this town no “loved ones” were lost.  Working in the MARC, it was obvious this father and son’s actions were shared among many in the community.  Parents and children alike told stories of helping each other out and feeling “lucky.”  Perhaps it was timing (being near St. Patrick’s Day), but I must believe their artwork also depicted this luck and resilience in amazing ways!

Day 2 we returned to Oak Grove. Snow was falling outside! This was a true testament to how quick Missouri weather can change as the day the tornados rolled through the highs were hovering around 80!

We saw 9 kids throughout the day. While the number does not jump out as massive, many of the children spent several hours with us and let me assure you we were BUSY!  On this day another CCLS, Sarah Pfeifer, joined the team. Having a CDS team of 4 came in handy as we were able to tag team children’s needs and support the various energy levels of the children. One particular three-year-old stood out as she continuously wanted to check in with her caregiver.  It was interesting to see the separation anxiety, recognizing the developmentally appropriateness, but also the deviation of that given the recent disaster.  Her need to check in was definitely elevated, it was nice to have enough volunteers in the center to be able to support her in checking in so frequently with her caregiver.

Another family came in to us mid-afternoon that warmed our hearts. Four siblings had experienced a total loss of their home. They were living with friends, had all new clothes, and had obviously been through a great deal of stress. It was neat to see the way these siblings were treating each other.  As we can imagine, a typical day must involve some bickering and tiffs, but not today.  The girls played cards together, the boys jumped in to teach them a new card game.  The camaraderie and gentleness with which they spoke with each other was so special, something not often seen between siblings.

On Sunday, we moved to a 2nd MARC location in Smithville, MO about 50 miles away.  For those of you trying to follow along, Missouri got hit by several tornadoes on the same night – in all corners of the state – Northwest, Central, Southeast, etc. We were lucky enough to have CLDR members respond to each MARC that was setup – Perryville, Oak Grove, and Smithville!

Exhaustion…it was interesting to see the energy level difference as the days went on. Friday, in Oak Grove, kids sought parachute games and bean bag tosses. Sunday the kids in Smithville were drawn to chalk drawings and rice play. It marked nearly a week since the tornado, much of the adrenaline rush  had seized and the children seemed tired.  One child slept in the corner, while another created a masterpiece drawing.

At this MARC it was interesting to see the number of caregivers that approached us for advice on how to help their children cope and what to expect or do to assist in this process.  I spoke with a grandmother who was primary caregiver for her 3 year old grandchild, “she just keeps asking when she gets to go back to her home, sleep in her room…how do I tell her never?”  We talked about finding something from the child’s home that would mean something to her…the grandmother said the only thing she has found thus far is a broken Paw Patrol plate she used to eat on…I told her that was perfect!  It may or may not mean something now, but as the child grows it will be important for her to have something concrete to hold onto from her early years.

Another dad I spoke with described the challenges with trying to maintain routine, boundaries, and order in this chaotic situation.  His house had minor damage, however, he graciously opened his doors to his brother and his family who lost their entire home.  The result was 5 teenagers all under the same roof in tight quarters.  “At first it was like a fun sleepover, but now those feelings have worn off and they are starting to get at each others throats….my kids are used to cleaning up after themselves, but my niece and nephew are leaving soda cans all over the place…it’s just not how we are used to our house functioning.”  We talked about having open communication and engaging them in creating a new normal with shared expectations and rules.  He was hesitant at first, but once I explained how creating these together can invigorate feelings of control and empowerment, while setting boundaries and routine assists in establishing feelings of safety I saw a sense of relief flush over his face.  It was in these moments that I was reminded just how much my experience working with children and families in the hospital mirrored the work we were doing with families in this setting – empowering, educating, and supporting them to best support their children in times of chaos and stress.

As a mother to a 3 year old and full time PhD student this was the perfect opportunity to deploy. I was close to home and had the ability to tap friends and family for help. Thanks to my brother in law for picking up my son Friday afternoon and driving him to my parents in St. Louis for a fun filled weekend with his Mimi and Papa. Special kudos to my husbands co-worker for agreeing to take care of our two labs whose favorite past time is barking at strangers. And finally my father for meeting me an hour away from home Monday morning so I could hug, kiss, and squeeze my son as soon as possible.

This experience was very special to me for many reasons. One very special part was that joining me on this journey were two volunteers that share my last name! My husband and mother-in-law deployed as CDS volunteers all 3 days. It was so wonderful to have them along and watch them lift the spirits of the many families we served.




CLDR responds with CDS to EF-3 Tornado in Perryville, MO


Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) has been asked by the American Red Cross to serve in a Multi-Agency Resource Center in Perryville, Missouri in response to an EF-3 tornado that hit Tuesday night.  We are fortunate to have Rachel Erler, a University of Missouri child life student and Child Life Disaster Relief member joining the CDS team to help support the children and families involved.  The tornado ripped through the town causing severe damage to over 100 homes, 60 being total losses.  Please keep the families, children, community, and volunteers in your thoughts and prayers as they recover from this devastating disaster.


Deployment Alert: Oroville Dam in CA

Credit: Brian van der Burg/Los Angeles Times


Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) has been asked by the American Red Cross to have two teams of volunteers ready to go to Oroville, CA, if needed to help assist as evacuations are underway. Residents are being evacuated after the spillway on a major dam began to break over the weekend. The Red Cross “is thinking that the mass shelter needs will continue to grow,” reports CDS associate director Kathy Fry-Miller. “They have over 2,000 people in shelters currently and are planning for 5,000 people for over 2 weeks.”

If you are trained & certified with CDS and able to deploy in the next 2 weeks (beginning in the next day or two), please contact Kathy Fry-Miller ( it would be helpful to put subject line: “Oroville Dam deployment availability.”  


2016 Year in Review

2016 was a big year for CLDR!  

…but to be honest, we have been saying that same thing for the past several years.

This all started as a lofty dream; an idea that we knew would meet a substantial need and have a huge impact.  We were committed to the cause, but I’m not sure we truly thought it would come to much- or at least not this much this quickly.  As each year passes, we look at each other and laugh in amazement at all that has been accomplished.  This continues to be exactly what we hoped for and much more than we expected.

2016 Recap:

We continued to solidify a strong partnership with Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) for local and national deployments in the US. In January, Katie Nees, Director of CLDR and Kathy Fry-Miller, Associate Director of CDS met with a group of child life specialists in Florida due to a need for more disaster responders in the Gulf Coast.  Two child life specialists took on leadership roles within CDS and became CDS Regional Coordinators, Erin Silber (Tampa, FL) and Heather Storey (Cincinnati, OH).  Numerous other child life specialists engaged in CDS and CLDR local efforts in their own cities – Kristy Woodwyk (Kalamazoo, MI), Lindsey Murphy (Columbia, MO), Erin Silber (Tampa, FL), and Heather Storey (Cincinnati, OH).  In September, the Florida Association of Child Life Professionals (FACLP) hosted a CDS training in Tampa specifically for 40 child life specialists, students, and music/art/rec therapists.  In October, Kristy Woodwyk, a CCLS at Bronson Children’s Hospital, hosted a training in Kalamazoo and in December, the Pacific Northwest Child Life Association (PNCLA) hosted a two-day CDS training in Seattle.  Several other CDS trainings took place around the country with a number of child life specialists at each.  At the end of 2016, a total 255 Child Life Specialists and students from 33 different states had been trained with CDS.

We deployed 8 out of 12 months this past year responding to 6 different disasters with CDS including the numerous Louisiana floods, the Missouri flooding, the California wildfires, the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, and Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina.  A total of 14 Child life specialist/students deployed including: Corinne Joplin, Lindsey Murphy, Sandy Bruner, Erin Silber (deployed twice), Gail Klayman, Tiffany Heinz, Katie Nees, Brianna Pastewski, Paula Hampel, Kelsey Loftus, Heather Storey, Crystal Baker, and Jessica Huerta.  A special thanks to each of them, their colleagues, families, and their employers for the support they so graciously offered prior to, during, and after their deployments.

Katie Nees presented with Kathy Fry-Miller, Associate Director of CDS at the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) Annual Conference.   Lindsey Murphy, CLDR Associate Director, and Heather Storey, CLDR Director of Community Relations, presented research on role-transferability and barriers to child life specialists deploying during disasters at the Mountain West Child Life Association (MWCLA) Conference.

CDS facilitated a Critical Response Training for experienced CDS volunteers.  This training focused on man-made disasters (including acts of terrorism, mass shootings, and major airplane/train accidents).  This group of specially trained CDS volunteers will be called upon for future man-made disaster deployments.  Six child life specialists were invited and attended this training alongside 40+ other experienced CDS volunteers.   Katie Nees presented at this training on helping children cope with traumatic grief and loss and offered many specific strategies that could be utilized with children during these critical responses.

We established our Board of Directors and became an official non-profit, obtaining 501(c)(3) status.  M. Anne Longo, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC accepted our invitation for CLDR Board Member.  Dr. Longo has been an innovator, educator, and leader in pediatrics for 30+ years and provides an invaluable perspective for our continued growth.

We developed Task Forces to accomplish specific large-scale tasks for our organization:

Research Task Force

Lead by Lindsey Murphy and includes Elise Huntley, Rachel Schmelzer, Megan Cassani, and Cassie Weisz.

This group is working on publishing data collected from child life specialists on the barriers related to deploying to disasters and on the transferability of child life skills to disasters.  Future projects are lined up and additional research teams will be formed in 2017.

Resources Task Force

Lead by Katie Nees and Lois Pearson and includes Paula Hampel, Maria Sherry, and Caleb Tait.

This group is working on collecting, reviewing, and choosing resources that will be vetted by CLDR as accurate and appropriate resources for CLS’s and the general public.  These will be organized by type of disaster on the CLDR website under the resources tab.  The groups plans on identifying gaps in available resources and developing a plan for meeting those resource needs.

Local Expansion Task Force

Lead by Heather Storey and Gail Klayman with Erin Silber.

This group is working on trouble-shooting ways for CLS’s to become integrated in disaster services within their local communities. Their goal is to work alongside our national partner, CDS to continue their local expansion efforts as well as increase the ways CLS’s can contribute locally to disaster relief efforts.  They are organizing documents and resources including letters and PowerPoints that can be utilized by CLS’s in any area of the country.  They have been collaborating with one local group that has incorporated CLS’s successfully to determine how to implement similar processes in other areas of the country.  This task force will be expanding soon by invitation to CLS’s who have already been working to integrate themselves locally.

International Exploration Task Force

Lead by Caralyn Perlee and includes Lindsay Borel, Rachael Heyns, Liz Hines, Jill Meyers, and Mizuho “Millie” Uyehama.

This group is researching various organizations in the international disaster relief community that might potentially be interested in and a good fit for a partnership.  They have begun building a database of organizations based on their research as well as their pre-existing networks and are looking towards developing the best plan of action for forging future potential partnerships.

Thank you to all of you who have joined us to make this a reality!  We anticipate 2017 being an even bigger year than 2016 and already have some major new developments in progress.  Click here for the announcement of our first international partnership.

Please take this time to update your contact information, address, and child life certification status by emailing us at

Happy New Year to you all!

“Want to see my home?”

I know I have mentioned a lot about the kiddos and their families I’ve encountered. However, I also want to be sure to share these things as well:

The Shelter: the cots and the small area surrounding them became their home

I remember when I was playing with one kiddo he asked me if I wanted to see his home. I replied, “sure”, thinking he would begin to tell me about his home or show me a photo. But instead he grabbed my hand and said “okay let’s go”. He proceeded to take me to a small area in the shelter where him and his family slept. This was an eye-opening encounter.

The bags, boxes, and containers families had by their cots may very well be all they have left!redcrosscot1

The Schools:

The superintendent of the schools came to the shelter every morning with a list of the kids going to each school. He stayed and ensured every kid got on the right bus and got to school.

The Volunteers:

The constant influx of additional volunteers, the kindness and generosity everyone showed to each other, the amount of people that dropped everything and came to respond to the disaster…

Well, the journey has come to an end for me. It feels odd leaving when the disaster relief work is incomplete. In the child life world, I imagine this feeling would be similar to what I would feel if I left in the middle of a procedure. Side note: I have never done that. I keep reminding myself that the amazing CDS team is still there providing support and opportunities for play. Although I may feel I am leaving things unfinished, I think back to the interactions I had with the kids and families, the stories shared, the raw emotions expressed and the impact we had on each other.  The relief and break that was given to parents and family members. The opportunity provided for kids to be kids and to work and communicate through play. The infectious smile one received when observing the child care center. The amount of kids wanting to come to the center significantly increasing as word spread. The numerous thanks and appreciation received.

And as I remember all these things I can’t help but notice a smile spread across my face.


Their Lives Disrupted- Kelsey Loftus

Walking into the shelter we were greeted with endless smiles. Sam (not his real name), one of the kiddos from yesterday, let out a big gasp and smile when he saw me. He was so excited when we opened to come back and play. When his dad, Bob (note his real name), dropped him of he began to tell their story. They had been living in the shelter from almost a month now. His mom has gotten sick and required hospitalization and has been in the hospital for about a week. His dad continued on saying, “I can’t wait for her to get out so we can get out of here. I am about to lose it”. Bob shared his plans for the future including leaving North Carolina as it has been difficult to find work too. “If I have to start over, I would rather start over somewhere else” said Bob. He verbalized endless gratitude toward us all for our time and services. “You have no idea how grateful we are for you guys. Sam woke me up bright and early this morning asking to go back to ‘daycare”’ stated Bob.

I cannot even begin to imagine all the feelings that parents and kiddos are feeling from this disaster. Having a place to call your home being ruined or washed away all in a moment’s notice. Having to stay in an unfamiliar place, in a big open room, with strangers, and no privacy. Having no idea how much longer you will be in the shelter or where you will end up. Being separated from family and friends. Being unable to work or leave the area unless there is a shuttle or if your car survived the disaster. I am sure this doesn’t even being to cover the list of feelings and emotions.  But, through my experience it is clear that having a safe place where the parents can take their kids to play, be kids, and work through the trauma utilizing play makes the world of a difference for children, parents, family members, and even staff. The laughter, joy, and smiles that come from center is contagious.

I snapped a few pictures of the devastation around us.  It becomes more real as I get to know the kids and families affected.

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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.


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.)

Deploying = Out of My Comfort Zone = Best Place to Be!


Sitting here on the plane, a million thoughts run through my head. Starting with how this all came to be, to what this journey will be like. To think this all started from me responding to an email stating I’m available is crazy. I remember Children’s Disaster Services writing back stating it may be difficult to get us out on a Sunday but they will still send it in for approval with the Red Cross and see what happens. They said they would try to let me know as far in advance as possible. I remember taking a deep breath and saying to myself “you know what… this Is in God’s hands. If it’s meant to be and God wants me there, then it will all work out and if not then maybe next time”.  Side note: I have never said anything like this in my life.

And what do you know, hours later I got a call saying “it’s a go”. When those words reached my ears, my heart jumped out of my chest. I wasn’t sure what to think or feel. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited but there was a whole mix of emotions.

  • Joy for the opportunity
  • Sadness for all the people affected by the disaster
  • Curiosity for how it will be and how it all comes together
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Excitement for a new journey and challenge
  • Nerves as this is something very new
  • Happiness to be able to use my skills and time to help those in need

Now this is also coming from the girl that has never traveled alone before. So the fact that I am sitting here on the plane not only independently, but also where everything is literately up in the air and can change at the drop of a hat is even crazier.

But despite the endless mix of emotions, the one I feel the strongest is a sense of calmness and peace for I am in the right place and where I am meant to be.


Deep Bonds and Relationships

The adventure continues…

Tuesday evening I arrived in Fayetteville, NC. During my last flight, I was on a very small plane, throughout the flight I had a long conversation with an elderly lady sitting next to me. She shared that she was coming back home for the first time since Hurricane Matthew. As we were landing, the sun was just setting and we could see some of the destruction that had happened. I could see quiet tears running down her cheeks as she stared at the window, I reached over and gently held her hand as we landed. No words were spoken but we hugged one another and I knew at that moment, this was the only place I wanted to be.

It was a strange feeling walking off a the plane and not knowing who I was looking for, who was picking me up, or where I was going. Quickly I found my team members and we loaded into a van to Fort Braggs where the Red Cross base is. After a lot of logistics we were taken to our hotel for the evening. I won’t go into all the details, but it was a long night. The night included knocks on the door from unwelcomed guests and also bugs. None of this seemed to bother me though, you learn quickly to roll with things and just laugh (a lot) along the adventure. It’s pretty crazy how quickly hundreds of “strangers” become your closer friends when you are all thrown together to accomplish the same purpose.

Wednesday morning we thankfully checked out of that hotel. After a lot of “hurry up and wait” we finally arrived at the shelter! As I mentioned before we are at a shelter with 48 residents, 11 of whom are children. We were greeted very warmly and enthusiastically as many expressed “we’ve been waiting for you!” “Where have you been?!”

The Red Cross shelter leader gave me a tour of the shelter, as we were touring and he was showing me the room where all the residents are sleeping, a young girl came running over and gave me the sweetest hug. When I told her I was there to spend time with her, her mothers eyes were filled with tears as she said “you don’t know how much that means.”

We couldn’t set up our space quick enough as a couple children didn’t want to wait. We spent the rest of the day playing and getting know a few of the children who have been living in the shelter. I particularly enjoyed getting to know a 6yo little girl who had just started back at school. We sat working on her homework together and I loved the way we started to develop a relationship. It took some silly dancing and voices but eventually she allowed me to assist her with her homework. I’m looking forward to continuing fostering relationships and helping the children get a sense of “normal” back…

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– Heather Storey