Tag 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.




“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.


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.


Deployment Alert: Louisiana flooding

Huffingtonpost.com/Associated Press
Huffingtonpost.com/Associated 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 (Kfry-miller@brethren.org) 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 (Kfry-miller@brethren.org) 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 CLDisasterrelief@gmail.com.

Day 7: Leaving a Different Orlando

Today I flew home.  I hated leaving when the Family Assistance Center is still open and there are some significant things still happening, but I needed to get back today.  Four members of our team are still there and will continue to care for the children.image

I drove away from the football and soccer stadium and thought: If I ever come back to this stadium it will likely be for something fun, but to me it will always represent something completely different.

 My first flight out of Orlando was PACKED with kids flying home with their families in Mickey Mouse t-shirts….several of them also seemed to be on sugar highs, which was fun for everyone.   Someone next to me on my second flight asked me, “Where’d you fly from?” and when I said Orlando, he said, “Oh that’s fun!”.  I nodded.

But to me, Orlando will now represent something different than before.  I think the people of Orlando are changed too and Orlando is a different place.   But for me, I think Orlando will always represent the privilege it is to be able to work with kids and families in critical, life-changing moments.  And to be able to laugh and play and be silly with kids sometimes and other times be serious and solemn together, all while helping them communicate, express, and begin to process their thoughts, fears, and hopes.  What an honor!

Additional Note:  I honestly am not completely comfortable sharing all these thoughts in this blog, since it feels a little too personal and our audience has grown so big!  But the CLDR team truly believes that there are many more CLS’s out there who can and should join this movement.  My hope in sharing this is that others will catch the vision for how we can use our child life skills in the field of disaster relief.  There is such a need!  Thank you for reading and for all your support during this deployment.  It has meant more than you could know.

Day 6: Wheelchairs and Boo-boo’s

We have been seeing a lot more of those who are injured coming to the Family Assistance Center.  This is likely due to the fact that they are starting to be discharged from hospitals.  Some come in wheelchairs and many with all sorts of bandages.  And they come supported by their friends and families.  It was Latino Night at the Pulse, and many individuals who were killed or injured are Latino.  There is a strong family and extended family support and that shows in the children’s play and words.


We are starting to see a difference with the kids who are coming since we are seeing more of the kids from those who have survived now.  There is a little less of a focus on grief and loss in their play and discussion and more of a focus on family, fears, and insecurities.   The fears are about potential dangers at every turn and fears of another family member being hurt or killed by some other bad person.  It was amazing to watch and hear how my teammates supported some of these kids in significant ways today.

One little boy I spent time with at a different location per the request of the parent, communicated through his play that he wasn’t sure his loved one’s “boo-boo’s” that he saw would ever heal.  ….but to anyone watching us play, they would have thought it was all fun based on how loud he laughed and giggled and seemed to completely enjoy what we were doing together.  I love how kids are kids, and I love how their real thoughts are often a mystery to adults, unless we stop and listen a tiny bit deeper.  I also still can’t believe I get the privilege to be the one to listen deeply right now.

The large hospital system a block away from Pulse has 49 crosses out front.  Each one has a name, a red heart, and a picture of that person.  Balloons, flowers, and notes are all around left by mourners, and that spot has become a gathering place for many at all hours.



Day 5: Numbers Don’t Capture the Story

At the Sunday night vigil with 50,000 people.
We got to the church early (it was completely packed once it started).

A few of us went to a local church service this morning before the Family Assistance Center (FAC) opened. Even though I’m an avid news-reader, I have not been reading the news on this horrible event and only learning details from the kids. But I have to tell you, the church put the names of the 49 victims up on the front screen for people to spend time in prayer and that was the first time I had seen the names all together- I was genuinely and completely shocked at how many names were up there. It took my breath away. The number 49 doesn’t capture the magnitude of this event. I read the names and could identify some of them and could picture the faces of the children we’ve met and the stories they’ve shared.

The Red Cross does a daily briefing each morning before the Family Assistance Center (FAC) opens, and they report on details and tasks. They reported that the FAC has welcomed and helped 642 individuals and 266 families so far who were significantly affected by this tragedy. These are the victims’ families, the injured, and also those who were at Pulse that night (both staff and patrons) who were not injured. Many of them suffered emotional trauma as well as needing assistance with lost valuables including wallets and keys. The cars in the parking lot were also unable to be retrieved easily due to the crime scene itself and the media waiting by the cars to talk to anyone who came to retrieve them.  So, the FAC developed a plan for retrieving those cars and returning them to the individuals.

Those numbers of the families we have served… they are huge.  But I can’t let go of that feeling when I saw those 49 names all together: that the numbers just don’t capture the true magnitude and impact of this event.#healorlando

Day 4: Critical Response Team & Wally

Due to the nature of this deployment, these blogposts have been on hold until they have been cleared for release.

This has been a super controlled and well organized disaster response as a whole. My teammates who have been on critical response deployments before, say that the response for man-made disasters seems to be more regulated overall than for natural disasters. Possibly in part due to the fact that local agencies and organizations are less likely to have staff or buildings of their own directly affected, so they are able to coordinate relief services on full capacity.


This is our full team. Erin and I were the child life specialists on the team. Erin was able to arrive a day before me, and she stay for two days before she needed to return to work. We also have one early childhood mental health therapist, a social worker, and a physician, and all have been trained for working with kids post disaster.

We continue to have valuable interactions and opportunities and those interactions of course still need to handled with high confidentiality so I am unable to go into detail. I was hearing today how local organizations have been asking/offering to be allowed to provide services to the families, but at this stage, they are being turned away. That is not because they do not have something valuable to offer, but only because those needs are currently being met by the critical response teams of the various disaster organizations initiated by the Red Cross. If the Child Life Disaster Relief (CLDR) team has learned anything in the past 5 years, it is that the field of disaster relief relies heavily on its trusted “go-to” organizations that have proven their effectiveness over years and decades of providing consistent and reliable disaster relief services. We are grateful for our partnership with Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) to be able to join them in providing these critical services in the disaster’s immediate aftermath. However, once the critical response time period is over, those local organizations who are looking to help, will be needed more than ever in the Orlando community.

Now after all that, I need to introduce you to my new friend, Wally:


Yeah. He’s with the FBI. No biggie.