CLDR Member Spotlight – Eileen Esposito

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! My first 4 years as a child life specialist I worked in New York City in the PICU, inpatient, and emergency departments in hospitals in Brooklyn. This month, I just finished my first full year in Florida as part of a great team of specialists in the pulmonary medical surgical unit at St. Joe’s Children’s. Additionally, I am exercising my “private practice” muscles to combine both of my credentials as a music therapist and a child life specialist to fill a gap I’ve identified in the community-based setting, locally. A lot of this private practice is with early childhood age kids, and children on the autism spectrum. It’s been an amazing adventure branching out and bringing these skill sets to less traditional settings!

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 attended my first Children’s Disaster Services training in Florida around 3 years ago. I heard about it while working in Brooklyn and my supervisor at the time was the one who encouraged me and suggested that this area of work could be a good fit for me. She was right! After the training I was so much more aware of children’s experience of and needs during trauma and stress. I continued working in the emergency department and hoped that I would get an opportunity to deploy (even though I never hoped for a disaster to occur of course!).

What made you interested in working with children after disasters?

  • Both of my previous hospital employments were at level 1 trauma centers in inner city New York. As I worked in those environments, I grew more and more comfortable and confident in spaces that were life-changing, unpredictable, and required quick, on-your-toes decision-making. I realized the immeasurable value of a calm, stable presence for children experiencing trauma and emergency. Also, I volunteered in an African orphanage and put these skills and experiences to use last year, which only deepened my passion for being in high-risk, high-stress environments with the sole mission of steadfastly supporting the children. Once you’ve had a taste of that raw, vulnerable human connection, it’s extremely moving, and I think it kind of leaves an imprint on you that you can’t shake. The work of helping kids retain their childhood and find normal kid-moments in scary, life-changing (or life-threatening) situations, and to help be a guiding light or stable, kind presence, is like no other role out there, and I’m constantly learning and growing, just like the kids we serve.

What is your favorite memory from being involved?

  • This recent deployment to the Bahamas was a game changer for me. I was impacted professionally and personally by that trip on so many levels- by the people who helped us, the children and families we served, the CLDR team who organized and supported us, and the team of specialists I was deployed with (just to name a few!). One of the most memorable and crazy things about that trip was the juxtaposition of total disaster, chaos, and tragic loss amidst a beautiful, pristine, idyllic paradise. It took a lot of mental focus and reflection to wrap my head around the “old normal” these kids were leaving behind and the “new normal” they were facing. I will always remember the faces of the kids when we would show up to play with them. Two other extremely memorable moments happened on that trip – one was, we had a celebrity sighting (I won’t name who to protect their privacy!) who was also there for disaster relief in the same shelter as us, and the other was that I ran into a former coworker pediatric nurse who was there for disaster relief as well, and she made introductions for us that took us to the next level in our relationships with people in the community. She laid a bridge for us to connect and provide even more support – so it all felt very aligned, like a special force was at work carrying us through that trip, allowing us to reach more kids, have these moments of magic and kismet, and make connections.

What advice would you give to others who are thinking of working with children impacted by disasters?

  • Absolutely do it— even if (or especially if!) it feels like a stretch to you, personally or professionally. If you get the chance to go and help, stay connected to all the supportive people around you- the other CCLSs, the team organizing the trip, your lifeline, and everyone else who has your back. The experiences with the children will fill a hole you didn’t even know you had in your heart. 🙂 It is so worth it, and just imagine if you or your loved ones were to be the ones experiencing a huge change or loss due to a disaster, how incredible it would be to have the support of trained professionals who are there to help take care of the children and mitigate their stress and anxiety?! It’s such an amazing opportunity and an amazing role to be in. You will learn and grow so much. Let go of all your doubts and fears, and watch how lives are changed for the better. Trust the flow and believe in the whole process.
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