Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Children enjoy safe haven at FEMA's Welcome Home Center.

In a small area within a center for disaster victims, five young children bubble with excitement. Three boys play ball. One girl builds houses with blocks, and another one goes to and fro between the imaginary kitchen where she makes cookies with Play-Doh and the fictitious room where she looks after a few baby dolls.

This is one of the lively backdrops that children who experienced Hurricane Katrina encounter at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'s Welcome Home Center in New Orleans. A concerted endeavor to serve storm victims, the center includes a special nursery run by volunteers of Children's Disaster Services, a ministry of the Church of the Brethren.

The volunteers, among them retired school teachers and nurses, are trained to provide a safe and comforting environment to children impacted by traumatic events. Since the opening of the multi-resource center in Jan. 2007, a total of 64 volunteers equipped with toys and games have tended to 1,997 children while their parents focused on requesting assistance.

"I like this place because the ladies here play with me," said five-year-old Destiny Domino as she made Play-Doh cookies with a volunteer. Five-year-old Nia Rivers concurred while she tucked in the baby dolls' clothes under the wing of another volunteer.

Both girls lost their Orleans Parish homes to Katrina and remember the day it arrived. Destiny, whose mother went to the Welcome Home Center to request funds for basic home appliances, expressed the fear she felt when her home flooded. Likewise, Nia, whose grandmother asked for assistance to buy furniture, described how upset she was when her home was destroyed and her toys along with it.

"We are here to give children comfort in a wholesome and nurturing atmosphere," said volunteer Carolyn Guay, who worked with Nia. "That is part of the philosophy of disaster child care."

With that in mind, FEMA brought Children’s Disaster Services to the Welcome Home Center.

"We saw the need to have Children’s Disaster Services when we noticed many people with children affected by the storm returning to the city," said Verdie Culpepper, supervisor of the Voluntary Agency Liaison Department at the FEMA Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office. "CDS volunteers have been taking care of the children while their parents do recovery-related paperwork at the center."

A joint effort between the city of New Orleans and FEMA, the Welcome Home Center offers a variety of resources for residents who are rebuilding their lives. The center houses FEMA, the Housing Authority of New Orleans, Louisiana Spirit, Odyssey House, the Small Business Administration, Louisiana State University, and Road Home.

"I thank people for all the time they give to aid us to come back," said Nia's grandmother Bernett Glasper, whose house was decimated by the flood. "It's a long struggle, but we are working together as a family, like in this center. The community is binding together, and that is what is helping us survive."

FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror. For more information on Louisiana disaster recovery, visit

--Gina Cortez is a Public Affairs Specialist at the US Department of Homeland Security/FEMA Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office in New Orleans. This report was taken from a FEMA press release.

Source: 08/29/2007 Newsline Extra

No comments: