Do you currently work in Child Life? If so, tell us about your current position. If not, tell us about your Child Life history.
Yes, I currently work as a Relief Child Life Specialist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA. I have just returned from living in Cambodia for a year where I volunteered at the Children’s Surgery Center in Phnom Penh. (What an amazing challenge that was, trying to learn their language. Of course if you know the universal language of play, that helps too!) Before that, I worked at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon for 17 years. I have enjoyed working in a variety of units in hospitals participating in both work and volunteer opportunities.
How long have you been connected with Child Life Disaster Relief and in what capacity (either directly or through our partnerships – Children’s Disaster Services, Camp Noah, etc.)? Briefly describe some of those experiences.
I just recently learned about Child Life Disaster Relief. I had been trained with Children’s Disaster Services several years ago but wasn’t available to go on a disaster relief deployment until this past November. I joined a fantastic team of ladies serving families affected by the fires in Chico, CA. Together we worked with many children who were facing great loss after fleeing their homes, schools and community due to the devastating fires. Children wanted to talk about it, draw about it, act it out, and find a place where they could simply play and have a sense of normalcy. I remember one boy missed his school teacher and classmates and wondered if they were okay. Together we sat down and wrote a letter to his teacher where he poured his heart, telling her how much he missed her and his classmates and hoped she was okay. One child took a red crayon and drew pictures of big flames on black paper to express what he had just witnessed. Art has such a therapeutic value, and I was glad we had sufficient art supplies to allow that self expression. Many children were concerned about whether their pets had survived the fires. They would talk about their pets and their play reflected their concern as they maneuvered the pretend animal figures into a safe fenced in area in hopes that their own pets were safe as well.
What made you interested in working with children after disasters?
During my CDS training I discovered just how perfectly matched our Child Life training and skills could be used in response to the traumas children experience not just in the hospital setting, but also following natural disasters. It’s great to know we can make a difference in such situations, and joining such an experienced team helps make it all possible.
What is your favorite memory from being involved?
Watching how children responded to the pet therapy dogs that visited the children in our play area was very moving to witness. The way they hugged those dogs made it clear that it was a therapeutic moment for the children, as they clearly missed their own pets.
What advice would you give to others who are thinking of working with children impacted by disasters?
Considering going to a disaster area is a big decision and does require some sacrifice. I remember feeling overwhelmed as we drove TOWARDS the smoke and fires in Chico. But once I met my teammates, many of whom had served in other disasters before this, I found the energy I needed for this powerful week of service.