Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
After Trauma: Children's Disaster Services & the local church
Any tragic event - war, famine, natural disaster, community violence - seems to tear at us a little bit more when it affects a child. Our church nursery and Bible school walls are adorned with drawings and scripted verses: Let the little children come to me … for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. (Matthew 19:14) We are tender-hearted for society’s youngest members.
Since 1980 Children’s Disaster Services (CDS), a program of Brethren Disaster Ministries, has been meeting the needs of children by setting up child care spaces in shelters and disaster assistance centers across the nation. Specially trained to respond to traumatized children, volunteers provide a calm, safe and reassuring presence in the midst of the chaos created by tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural or human-caused disasters.
Week of Compassion and CDS frequently partner in a variety of ways, and the ripple effect of caring for children is profound. Learning from and serving with CDS is not simply making disaster response pint-sized, but intentionally focuses on a child’s unique responses to trauma and tending to their needs in the immediate moments, while engaging the embedded realities that unfold later.
First Christian Church of Princeton, Kentucky, had several strong ministries pre-pandemic, including a community garden and a youth mentorship program called Venturing Crew. At the outset of the pandemic in 2020, they saw two needs in the community – food assistance, and support of local farmers unable to sell goods, as farmers’ markets had to close.
With support from a Week of Compassion COVID-19 Relief Ministry Grant, the Venturing Crew compiled boxes of fresh food – from the community garden and purchased from local farmers – which they delivered to food-insecure families in the area. The December 2021 tornadoes in western Kentucky exacerbated the same needs, so FCC Princeton has planned an expansion to focus on the needs of those displaced by the tornado, again with financial and informational support from Week of Compassion, and in constant relationship with the Christian Church in Kentucky and especially the Christian Church in Kentucky West Area.
The question quickly came: How can we help the children in the households that will receive food boxes? Back to where we started today: Week of Compassion connected FCC with Children’s Disaster Services, to see what might develop.
During the pandemic, CDS had developed ‘Individual Kits of Comfort’ as a way to serve children who needed them, even when group and face-to-face gathering wasn’t possible. Each kit has materials specifically chosen to help kids process trauma through play as well as some instructions and ideas for parents and caregivers. CDS shared the list of items for the kits and a recommended book list for FCC to include in their food delivery boxes, and then provided grant funding to help.
And now, as FCC plans a summer day-camp for children affected by the tornadoes, CDS has connected them with yet another partner, Child Life Disaster Relief, that deploys Child Life Specialists to disaster-affected areas. The church hopes to have one or two specialists present at the day-camp, to help the kids process some of the trauma from the December tornadoes.
When our hearts break for the most vulnerable in our communities, partnership, imagination, and collaboration do more than we can imagine. From First Christian Church to Week of Compassion to Children’s Disaster Services to Child Life Disaster Relief and back to First Christian - and most importantly, into their community and the lives of their community’s children - together, God’s people are transforming suffering into hope.
Volunteer training events with Children’s Disaster Services
are coming in May (in Lititz, PA) and June (in Woodinville, WA).
Trained volunteers can elect to be called on for future CDS disaster response deployments
in addition to using their new skills in their local communities.
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