Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
Where Their Kids Can Be Kids
how Children’s Disaster Services cares for the most vulnerable
A recent Week of Compassion Update lifted up the ways Disciples are living and breathing the ‘cycle of compassion’: how time and again, when God’s people are in need, God’s people are also there in response. This expansive compassion means transformation and hope, a visible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, made real even in the most difficult moments.
A long-time Week of Compassion partner, and often among the first on-site in the days following a crisis, Children’s Disaster Services (a program of Brethren Disaster Ministries) holds a unique and significant role in disaster response and recovery.
Since 1980 Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) has been meeting the needs of children by setting up child care centers 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.
Earlier this summer, a team of volunteers deployed to Uvalde, Texas, to continue the caregiving and assistance for children and families in the midst of a deeply tragic and highly politicized situation. Judi Frost, a member of Week of Compassion’s Board of Stewards and a trained CDS volunteer, served in Texas and more recently with another CDS site near her home in Virginia. The daily reflections she shared with friends and colleagues help tell the story. (Judi’s words are in italics throughout.)
Named the Uvalde Resilience Center, a temporary tent-and-cubicle facility was set up at the edge of town at the fairgrounds, housing a variety of response agencies to allow families to access assistance from numerous sources more easily. The role of CDS volunteers is to provide a place where the parents are comfortable having their children play while they talk with the resource people and consider how they want to proceed. We have books, art activities, toys, games, for children of any age. … And snacks!
Volunteers - with Children’s Disaster Services and other partners - travel from all over the country to offer aid; a whole network of families, employers, funders, congregations, and more make sure that communities that need care have people ready to offer it. They start by taking time to familiarize themselves with the community they’re serving, honoring loss marked by local memorials and how neighbors rise up to bear one another’s burdens: The ripples of support go far beyond the folks who are here in person. … I don't want to insulate myself from this reality. Knowing that volunteers from so many places have been here for the last three weeks to offer some support and healing is one glimmer of hope to the world. … We are more connected than we think.
Among the volunteers, Judi learned that some had worked at the Paradise fires in California. A few had worked at Fort Bliss with Afghan refugees. Some had worked at the border with Mexico. In addition to the team Judi joined in Uvalde in the wake of that violent tragedy, CDS volunteers have deployed over the last few weeks in response to the massive flooding in both Missouri and Kentucky, and are serving with families in other parts of the country who are seeking asylum. Judi notes that what remained the same was the presence of caregivers of all kinds, professional and volunteers. Traumatized parents do not have to leave their children and go off-site for assistance, but can have needed conversations with counselors, advisors, and others, all while their children are nearby, engaged, and safe. We just want to make sure they know there is a place where their kids can be kids. That's what we do.
Judi says that her Jenga and Connect 4 game playing has improved, that stacking blocks can bring unending joy, and that putting baby dolls to sleep, waking, and feeding them can happen hundreds of times in a day. And she is glad to report that the wonders and joy of PlayDoh remain infinite among children, no matter the circumstance.
A little boy - probably about 3 or 4 - hunkered down with a volunteer and played with the cars and train set for almost one hour. He had plans, and chattered about his play scheme. None of us could understand the words, but his play was thoughtful and planned. He'd put a finger up to his cheek, and murmur "Hmmmmm" as he pondered his next move. Then he'd laugh, and the volunteer would laugh, and they'd roll around on the floor with the absurdity of it all. His mother sat at the table and just watched her delightful and delighted little boy. I wondered what dreams she had for him, and what a blessing it must have been to watch him be a happy and playful child. It was a gift to see her face.
The gifts of partnership, generosity, and a genuine caring presence can never be taken for granted, and will always leave both the giver and the receiver more deeply rooted and grounded in the compassion of Christ.
Information on Volunteer Workshops with Children’s Disaster Services can be found here.
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