Tag Archives: disaster

“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.




One Trauma Unveils Another…

A few weeks ago, my local CLDR team got our first dispatch call: a multi-family apartment fire with 2 fatalities.  We were being called to assist with a grandmother and her child with autism who both were living in the complex and evacuated at this time.  Woah…fire, death, autism…this is a big one to handle for our first local call, I took a deep breath, and texted my team brief details to find out who could respond.

Within a few hours, I reached out to the grandmother via phone.  I introduced myself, listened to her story, and began trying to gather information to help inform our services.  The conversation was a little rocky as the child hadn’t left her side since the fire and was becoming upset when his grandmother discussed anything related to it on the phone.  We kept the conversation pretty vague due to this…I was very thankful for my previous experience working in developmental and behavioral pediatrics as many of the sensory stressors and behavioral reactions the grandmother explained were familiar.  We ended the conversation with an appointment for me to “meet & greet” with her son, she said “he either likes you or he doesn’t, I don’t want you to waste your time on helping us if he doesn’t approve.”  Talk about pressure!

As I hung up the phone I felt so unprepared…ugh, I don’t even have a rough idea of this child’s experience of the fire, the relationship they had with those that died, the cause of the fire…was it human error?  How was I supposed to go help without an idea of what I was stepping into?  I had the weekend to figure that out…or just think about it!

Monday morning I met them at their temporary housing.  Myself and a colleague were greeted with a huge smile from a sweet 5-year-old boy and his grandmother catching some fresh air on the porch.  What unravelled, was astonishing!  To be honest, I thought I was prepared for anything –  I’ve got years of experience as a CCLS, in a trauma bay and with children with autism…that covers it right?

The boy and my colleague played, and played, and played….0d86ca35368f0f44ac6fcff8d3021beethey played with play-doh, played with his favorite alligator (saved from the fire – thank goodness!), played with bubbles, and even did some coloring.  I sat with the grandmother at the opposite end of the room and listened….for 2 hours.

Story after story unravelled of hardships I couldn’t even begin to imagine!  This grandmother needed to be heard.  I quickly realized that the trauma I had been called in for “the fire” was the least of this family’s concerns at this time.  The child had endured more in his life than any human being should EVER have to endure.  The grandmother had given her entire life and seemingly only been met with devastation – tornadoes, fires, loss, terminal illness…the list goes on.  Despite these circumstances, I found myself in awe of this grandmother’s ability to assist her child in coping.  She described her understanding of his needs to communicate about the fire, but “in a different way”, this she accomplished through a “news-reporter” game.  She went on to recognize how the child revealed his experience of the fire through this game…”after a while of playing news reporter he got up and started running in circles…I let him run…and finally I asked ‘what are you doing?’, his response…I’m getting our neighbors outta here!”

As I prepared for our time together to end, I found myself trying to find something, just one more thing I could do to help.  Prior to our arrival, I had tentatively thought a social story about the fire or his new home would be helpful, helping to transition and to establish a sense of safety again.  Maybe giving the child the time and space to engage in child-directed play would be helpful.  Maybe walking through the rubbled home together to gather meaningful items with this child would be helpful.  Maybe I would do some grief/loss work with this child regarding the fatalities. Maybe I would just simply be offering the grandmother education regarding her child’s reactions, needs, and potential interventions to alleviate continued traumatic effects.  Maybe offering validation of safety and assisting in ridding any feelings of guilt/fault.  None of these things, aside from safety and play, seemed helpful at this time…and to be honest safety wasn’t even something I could confidently guarantee due to family circumstances.

I realized throughout our interaction that what this family needed most was community resources.  I also found myself thinking about how significantly this child’s development had seemingly been grossly affected by chronic stress and trauma.  With the permission of the family, I made a cold call to our developmental specialty clinic in the area, talked with the social worker, spoke with their assessment team, and the next day made a referral for further assessment and resources.

I guess in many ways this first call looked like any other day in the life of a child life specialist….unpredictable circumstances that require creativity,  flexibility, and compassion.

A week later, we received another call requesting our services for victims of this same fire – this time it was to work with the SEVEN children of those that had died in the fire…


Day 1: Heading West

airportToday consisted of travel, travel and more travel! Everything went very smooth.  We are so fortunate to partner with some unbelievable organizations that help to make these volunteer trips a reality.

The Red Cross and Children’s Disaster Services organized all travel plans. I simply had to be flexible and be at the right place, at the right time! One of my fellow CDS volunteers shared with me today, that as long as you are flexible, you will never be bent out of shape! Which was obviously very relatable to our 14-hour travel day and this entire trip!

I still don’t have many more details at this time. I know that the fire has been 85-90% contained, which I hope can ease some of the stress and worry of those already impacted by this disaster. I hope the children and families continue to gather all of the support and resources needed to recover from this disaster and can soon return back to a new normal.

Stay tuned for more updates!


Day 3: Play-Doh Naps

Today started with a press conference where we stood with city officials and the other relief organizations in front of a line of reporters (crazy!).  And then it ended with a nap on top of play-doh.


It was a quieter day overall for us in our play space.  One pre-teen girl seemed eager to talk and showed me pictures on Google  and described how it feels to have her family in the news and on social media. I colored and played cards with a young boy who cracked a smile every so often- I love the shy kids!  Later, another young boy gradually started playing slower and slower until he fell asleep with play-doh and roller in his hand…..the last few days have been exhausting, I think.



But you know what?  Right after a kid today told me that our play-doh selection was lame (we wore our supplies out yesterday!), I met up with a child life specialist (CLS) here in Orlando who had offered to help in any way we needed.  I asked if she could bring us a few more specific supplies and she gathered the items from other local child life specialists and brought them to us!  She is also continuing to help us connect with CLS’s for some potential in-hospital family needs.

imageI love that instant-friends feeling from our child life family.  Thank you, Orlando CLSs!  You’re just what we needed.

Missouri Flood Relief: Lindsey in Pacific, MO

Just prior to my deployment, I was made aware that a fellow child life specialist that works with me at Women’s & Children’s Hospital was also going to be serving on my team.  This was so exciting!  I was ecstatic that we were both going to go and share in this journey together.  As we drove to St. Louis the night prior to our deployment we shared our excitement for this opportunity and utter ignorance to what we were about to walk into the next day.  Would there be a lot of children?  What type of grief/loss would they be experiencing?  Who would we be serving with?  In some ways these unknowns were familiar – in the healthcare setting we don’t often have all the answers either.  We were used to relying on our skill sets and experiences to guide us into new and unfamiliar situations.

Upon arriving to the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) we navigated through the many tables set up with organizations looking for a sign that said “Children’s Disaster Services.”  It was so incredible to see the various organizations that came together to help families affected by the floods.  From the essentials (food, clothing, and shelter) to insurance claim information to organizations offering gift cards and donated items, it was so refreshing to see so much good going on in the midst of this disaster.  We made it to the back of the center where we were greeted by fellow CDS volunteers who immediately made us feel welcomed by stating their appreciation for our willingness to serve and excitement for some “young energy!”

This young girl came into the center timidly and wasn’t eager to play or interact. She went directly to the tent, which likely provided her with a space to feel safe while she assessed her new setting. She observed those playing by peering out and then retreating back. It didn’t take long for her curiosity to lure her out into the playful environment that allowed her to be a kid again!

After filling out some brief paperwork, our first task was to set-up our space.  This proved to be much more challenging than expected as we embarked on building a tent space for the children that would soon be arriving.  Let’ s just say Corinne and I were not experts, however, I think the space served the children’s purposes.

Throughout the first day we had about 13 kids visit the center.  Each one of them with unique personalities and their own way of coping with the flood.  However, they shared a  common denominator of joy and playfulness once engaged with the CDS volunteers and each other.  It was so refreshing to see the kids imaginations and stories come alive.  We also learned that most of the local schools were able to remain in session and therefore many children were able to attend school still.  This was so exciting as we know routine and peer interaction is so important for children, especially after any type of trauma.




On our second day, the MARC was relatively slow.  Although we longed for kids to play, we didn’t let the lack of kids stop us from playing ourselves!  We colored our space and shared our own life stories while getting to know one another.  I certainly knew after the first day what great people I was surrounded by, but I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to get to know my team better.  Most of them had served in other major disasters with CDS and they were so generous in sharing those experiences with us “newbies.”  This was so helpful in understanding the variety of experiences and services one might be fulfilling during a disaster deployment.  They told stories of rocking children to sleep due to their utter exhaustion…stories of children telling their stories and painting pictures to describe what they experienced during disasters and so on.  Each and every disaster is so different, not one response will be the same.  That is the reality of disaster services…you must be flexible and willing to serve in whatever ways needed.

Another advantage to this day was the ability to walk around the MARC and engage with other volunteers and organizations.  For years I have been working with Child Life Disaster Relief to learn about the needs of children and families during disasters and how child life professionals might fill those needs.  This was a perfect opportunity to not only learn more about other organizations fulfilling some of those needs, but also about disaster relief processes and procedures.  One of the most exciting things I learned was the initiatives through our Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to help children and youth in disasters.  After brief conversations learning about them and sharing about us, I was invited to join their efforts and get more involved with the SEMA initiative.  I can’t wait to make this happen!  There are some very exciting things going on in Missouri and I’m hopeful they will become a great model in disaster services to children and families throughout the nation!

A huge thanks to my wonderful team!  Thank you for introducing me to you, your experiences, and disasters in general!  I can’t wait to serve again!