Last year, a Children’s Disaster Services team made history facilitating a play center in a cattle barn. While you can never anticipate what your play space might be, CDS volunteers dive right in to setting up with imagination and creativity. I deployed with a team of three other local volunteers on short notice to an old Office Max building that had been serving as a distribution center to flood victims from multiple midwestern states, especially southern Illinois. One interaction stood out in this two-day ‘One-Stop Shop’ offering relief and recovery resources to flood victims.
Seven and nine-year-old brothers arrived in the center during final hours. By that time, our team had made friends with adjacent representatives including trained caseworkers assisting flood victims to navigate paperwork, and government (FEMA), non-profits, and faith-based organizations. Realizing our play center contained “treasure”, and recognizing pent-up energy, they steered the boys to our area in a back corner. The seven-year-old is ‘the artist’ according to his brother. He sat right down with play-doh to add wildly-shaped appendages to the motorized roaring Tyrannosaurus-Rex. He said, “If you would only take a photo, you would definitely keep it forever!” He asked if I had ever seen “the most important movie ever made” called Jurassic Park and detailed little known facts about various types of dinosaurs. Meanwhile, his brother was gathering up sport balls, two sizes of basketballs from wall-mounted sets we had taped up, and even the tiny jacks ball, along with every cardboard box in sight. He and my teammate began playing a new form of baseball he invented by moving the boxes each time he hit a ball into a box. Both brothers were soon competing while my teammate encouraged them with verbal prompts that “You’ve got this; you control the boundaries.” When Mom and Grandma arrived to take them home, they begged us to “please, please, come back next week”. Flood conditions may constrain children’s sense of liberty, and cardboard boxes can be a saving grace!