The second half of my trip was spent providing care to children in a couple different shelters and a newly opened DRC, Disaster Recovery Center. This space is located in a huge movie sound stage/warehouse and serves as a one stop shop for people to meet with FEMA and other disaster assistance agencies to find the resources they need. The FEMA employees there mentioned they are scheduled to be there until November, at the earliest! More proof that there is so much more rebuilding and support needed for this community.
After my last post, we left our small rural shelter and headed to a large shelter in downtown Baton Rouge. When we made it to the bigger shelter, I was taken aback at the amount of people who were there. This shelter is located in the conference center and arena space at the River Center, and was now housing around 800 people (and at one point 1,200). These rooms were filled with cots and people. A humbling sight, to the say the least. My team of 5 opened our child center to children from birth to 5 years old. We quickly were filled with a room of toddlers and a few infants. While slightly chaotic at times, I’m glad parents had a short period of time to relax.
I was also able to go back to the small shelter I first wrote about. During our time at this shelter, we were able to welcome some of the kids who were reluctant to come in before. The board games became more popular for the 8-14 year olds; this structured play gave them more certainty and a goal to work towards, contrasting their environment of chaos and uncertainty. A 3 year old girl really enjoyed putting the same puzzles together over and over again, increasing a sense of pride and self efficacy.
With these people and kids living in the shelter for around 20 days now, behaviors have changed (some for the better and others becoming more challenging) and frustration was more visible and expressive in our child-friendly space. This observation led to the most popular activity yet: VOLCANOES!
I had them write down or talk about the things that have been making them angry, they then tore the paper up into tiny pieces and watched them sink the lava! We talked about what we can do when we feel angry, since that was the most prominent behavior we had been observing. We did this activity in the beginning of the day and at the end, it was a success!
I really enjoyed seeing how such a small space of open-ended activities (with a few board games in the mix) can turn into a place where these kids can be themselves, learn, and grow!
I’m now back in Michigan. I miss Baton Rouge already but I’m thankful for time to finally decompress from the past week and a half. Thank you for following me on this journey!