Just a Single Day.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to help people. I have found joy in offering a helping hand, small favor, even just a smile. I think that desire to be of assistance is what initially drew me to child life. There are so many things I love about this incredibly unique and diverse field, but for me, just knowing that I could do something to make a potentially stressful experience a little easier for a child and/or family is my motivation for going to work every day.
For those same reasons, I was drawn to disaster relief. For years I would watch coverage and read articles about the devastation caused by tsunamis, earth quakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires. I would feel a pull to offer some kind of assistance. Not knowing what else to do, I donated what I could to the Red Cross or specific missions through church. I always felt like this wasn’t enough. I wanted to give of myself; I wanted to help.
I had heard of the Children’s Disaster Services through Church of the Brethren from a friend a couple years ago. She had urged me to look into their organization a little further, but it wasn’t until I learned of some child life specialists’ involvement with CDS that I really looked into the role that we, and eventually I, could play. I anxiously signed up and attended the CDS training offered at CLC National Conference in 2015 and loved every minute of it. I completed the “homework” portion of the training, received my badge in the mail and waited.
It wasn’t until this past week that I was able to be deployed to provide support after severe flooding in the St Louis area. It worked out that I was able to serve for just a single day, but in that single day I gained an awareness of disaster relief services that I never would have had earlier. I had the pleasure of volunteering with three ladies who shared amazing stories of previous deployments and experiences with the CDS. I enjoyed setting up our child care area and the troubleshooting that came with it. I was so excited to play with the kiddos who came to spend time with us. Personally, I feel like when I’m in the hospital it is sometimes difficult to allow myself to be fully present and just play with a child. I’m always wondering if I should be somewhere else; if I’m missing a procedure, preparation or debriefing regarding something stressful, etc. But on Saturday, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.
I had the opportunity to spend time with two cousins, a 2- and 6-year-old, while their family sought support from different organizations. During our play with play-dough, one of the cousins stated, “There is river water in my room.” The second cousin added, “There was so much river water in my room that they had to tear it down.” I simply replied, “Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I’m glad you are both here playing with me. You’re safe here.” My heart jumped as they shared this with me, I was so glad I was able to be there in this moment with them and provide the reassurance necessary.
After the cousins left for the day we had a couple more kids come in and out of the center, but none stayed long enough for what I considered to be enough time for therapeutic intervention/support. However, what I did note throughout the rest of the day, was how everyone in the room, through the tears and difficult conversations, would look over to us and smile. They would see the paintings and works of art that the children created, the kitchen set with dishes strewn about, the rice bucket, the books, and stuffed animals, and smile. It seemed like even the adults and families who did not have children with them looked to the child care center for some sort of reassurance, some sort of comfort and it hit me: what we were doing made a difference. Our presence, our support of children and the encouragement of play despite this incredibly stressful experience, in my opinion, helped everyone in that room in some small way.
As I drove back home to Kansas City, I couldn’t help but become emotional as I thought back on the day and all that I had seen. I felt great sadness and empathized with those who had experienced the devastation of loss in the wake of the floods. But joy soon overcame that sadness as I realized that despite the hardships that so many now have to deal with, there were dozens of volunteers, kind people, who had given a Saturday to help those in need. I thought of the cousins I had played with and the faces of those who looked over to us and found some happiness. I felt peace knowing that I might have made a difference in that one day, that maybe I helped.
-Sandy Ganey, Certified Child Life Specialist