Are you guys like babysitters?
“Yes. That, and so much more, let me tell you more”…As child life specialists we are all too familiar with our ‘elevator speech,’ and are ready to try to summarize all that we do in approximately three sentences. This is nearly impossible and never enough for someone to understand the importance of what we do.
Similar to my Child Life elevator speech, I’ve been fortunate to offer an explanation of the support we, as Child Disaster Services volunteers, can provide to children and families in these shelters. Babysitters? Yes. We offer respite care to parents who need a break, and are juggling with the stresses of gathering all of the resources available to help them secure the next steps of rebuilding their lives. Child care? Sure. We offer a safe place for children to participate in play that supports their developmental needs. Therapist? Kind of. We use play as a therapeutic modality for kids to make sense of the disaster that has drastically impacted their life, while also helping them find ways to cope with the new changes to their every day life. Best job? You bet!
Over the past couple days my team of 4 has been working in one of the smaller shelters, which houses approximately 60 people. We’ve had 5 kids, two sets of siblings; three 7-9 year old boys and 3 and 6 year old girls. I can’t tell you how many games of UNO I have played, or how many delicious Play-doh food items I’ve eaten, but what I can tell you (and what you already know) is that play is a beautiful thing!
Each day we walk in the shelter we are greeted by smiling faces, and while we try to quickly set up our center each morning, they patiently wait at the table, periodically asking us when we are going to be open. Although our center may be small, it’s a place where these kids are in control, where they’re voices and feelings are heard and acknowledged, and where they have a space to play with other kids, in a more structured way. They love it. And so do I!
Here a couple pictures of the fun we have been having.
The kids have really enjoyed playing doctor, more structured games like UNO, Chess, and Monopoly, active play and puppets. Imaginary play with boxes have also been a hit! In the bottom left, this little boy wanted to make a “hospital shelter for sick people,” complete with an American flag and Christian flag (both of which were hung up in the shelter space). He also drew a picture of a doctor and patient with a thumbs up. The bottom right are the girls riding in a Camaro and Mustang. Can you find the 3 kids in the next picture?
We also found out yesterday that today was going to be the last day in this shelter 🙁 I felt so bad breaking the news to the kids that we weren’t going to be back because we have to move to another shelter. Instantly their faces dropped and they asked why. I tried to explain to them why but I know it has to be confusing to them, and I can’t help but think it’s another loss that they are experiencing. I feel guilty. Especially since two of the kids are celebrating birthdays in the next two day. But with the other CDS team leaving one of the bigger shelters, we are needed somewhere else. We were able to leave a couple of the toys and games that the birthday kids enjoyed playing with us, to keep and continue playing while we are gone. I was able to complete this handprint activity with one of the younger girls, using both of our handprints, as a closing activity.
Although this group has been small, and we have only been here a handful of days, these kids have made an impact on my experience, and I will miss them! It’s hard leaving, knowing that they are going to be there for several more days, without services from Children’s Disaster Services. I can’t help but hope they are able to move to one of the bigger shelters, where we CDS will be.