Do you currently work in Child Life? If so, tell us about your current position. If not, tell us about your Child Life history.
I am a Certified Child Life Specialist, Therapeutic Recreation Specialist and certified in Public Health in Jacksonville, Florida. I have worked at Community Hospice & Palliative Care since graduation from University of Florida in 2008. Over the last decade, I have grown a one-person child life program into three full-time child life positions to best support children impacted by life-limiting illness. I began my work with pediatric hospice and palliative patients in the community-based setting, providing support to patients and siblings in their homes, schools, and clinics. Quickly into my career, the need was recognized to support children and grandchildren of dying adult patients to address anticipatory grief, memory making, and optimal quality of life.
I received my Master in Public Health in 2017 to better understand how to grow a program. My mission is to raise awareness of the role child life specialists serve in palliative and hospice care both as an integral member of the interdisciplinary palliative team as well as the importance of the child life specialty profession outside the hospital walls.
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 was friends with a co-founder and another one of the leaders within the organization. I had been involved with mission work internationally but never had served on the home front. While on the board for Florida Association of Child Life Professionals, we had them [Children’s Disaster Services in partnership with Child Life Disaster Relief] give a training in Tampa in 2016. I became certified and waited to finish graduate school before signing up for deployment.
I received the call to serve in Burgaw, North Carolina following Hurricane Florence in 2018. I was at a high school which was turned into a shelter and provided support to children displaced from the flooding which ruined many of their homes. Katie McDaniels and I met at the airport and drove to what seemed like organized chaos. Helicopters were bringing people they rescued into the shelter in the high school field, the National Guard was bringing in food and water, and the American Red Cross was manning the shelter operations.
What made you interested in working with children after disasters?
I learned of the important work that the CLDR leadership team are doing and wanted to become involved. I felt guilty that I wanted a disaster to happen so I could jump in, but living in Florida, we have been through our share of hurricanes. Now, I have agreed to become the CLDR Local Program Manager and am working on partnerships in the North Florida area so we can continually provide services for local disasters.
What is your favorite memory from being involved?
I realized that so many of the children lost their homes due to flooding and thought that a water table would be a nice addition to our options for children as they play through their experiences, thoughts, and emotions, including frightening evacuations and loss of their possessions. Once Wal-Mart opened, a Red Cross Shelter manager brought us to pick up some supplies. I found cat litter pans, boats, blocks and figurines so the children could choose the items they wanted to play with as they process through the insane turn of events they endured.
There are several experiences that stand out to me. Upon arrival, we saw children who had just met playing hide and seek under the cots in the high school gym. Another group of children were playing basketball. That first night, it was clear that kids just need to play and move to process the trauma they had just witnessed.
An eight-year-old girl named Franny, engaged in child-led play and built her home. She then took the figurines and shared how she had to leave her home in waist deep water. She expressed how she was sad her baby book was ruined and all of her toys, especially her favorite keyboard, were destroyed. As children compartmentalize, she would play and splash, and then share more about how she, her mother and two-year-old brother were rescued.
Another young lady who was ten years old and the daughter of a migrant worker sat silently building up a home with magnetic blocks. She placed a family of figurines on the roof, along with the dog, and brought a rescue boat with firemen on it. She placed the family on the boat and then knocked over the home. It is an experience I will never forget.
What advice would you give to others who are thinking of working with children impacted by disasters?
Do it! It is an amazing experience and you never know where the adventure will take you. Also, bring some of your own supplies if you’d like to have some of your favorite items or just in case there are delays in getting supplies to you. In a disaster, roads are shut down and we were flying solo for a few days before the flooding subsided and the stores reopened. The children and the American Red Cross workers and Children’s Disaster Services team will teach you so much and it is an honor to serve alongside them!