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!”
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!