For a lot of us working as child life specialists, a daily walk into our playrooms may look like this: a colorful space with climbers and manipulatives just for infants and toddlers, a more hands on arts and crafts space for preschool and school aged children, a corner with books or board games, a play kitchen or pretend play space, and quite possibly a game space for older school agers and teens. This description fits the same space we spent a weekend in during our most recent CLDR deployment. We were not that far from where we call home and were able to use the same skills we use in the hospital to help children process some difficult life experiences and just feel like kids again. The respite center that Children’s Disaster Services worked with for the months of July and August is located near the Texas border. It is close to a bus station where families who are helped by immigrant services can easily travel to their next destination. We were introduced to other CDS volunteers upon arriving to the respite center and quickly joined in the group efforts of providing a multitude of play experiences. 

We experienced so many touching life moments in the two days we spent at the respite center. Our interactions included a puppet show which required a multitude of paper bag characters, multiple Uno games, a mini soccer game with some energetic school agers, explaining the United States map to children eager to see where their new home states are located, and a lot of PLAY DOH! Soothing music was used in the background to create an oasis where these children could truly escape the difficult journeys they experienced and were still experiencing. Parents and other caregivers often enjoyed being onlookers and witnessing how much joy this space brought their children. Most of these kids left the space with smiles on their faces and new energy to continue on their journeys. A favorite moment was when a young girl commented that the space was “mejor que la guardería,” or “better than kindergarten.” We believe several of the kids felt similarly. These play opportunities were not something they expected to be part of their difficult journey and we were happy to be able to provide them.

– Leah Nawrocki, Abby Youngblom & Katie Olivera ( All CCLS’s from Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, TX)

Joining Leah, Abby, and Katie on this deployment was Boon Murray (CCLS), and CDS team members, Patty Henry and Mark Sorensen.