Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Helping turn helplessness into hope.

June 2. 9 a.m. Lisa, five years old, walked through the maze of cots in the Joplin Red Cross Shelter with her mother to the Children's Disaster Services (CDS) child care center. Lisa's family lost everything in the Joplin tornado, and had been living in the shelter more than a week.

As soon as her mom signed her in to our center, Lisa found me and we began our daily ritual. "It's time for you to go to bed now," she told me as she gently led me to the corner of the child care center and directed me to lie down on blankets on the floor. She put a soft pillow under my head, covered me with soft blankets, and put a teddy bear between my arm and my chest. After getting several books from the reading center, she asked, "Which of your books would you like to hear tonight?" I chose a book, and Lisa sat beside me and "read" me the book while pausing to pat me each time she turned a page. I pretended to sleep, awaken, and then we went to play with the other children and caregivers in the centers.

We had fun with puppets, easel painting, playdough, dress-up clothes, puzzles, and many other creative opportunities that offered Lisa and the other young children in the center a therapeutic release and opportunity to play. After lunch, Lisa asked if we could "rock." She snuggled on my lap in a rocking chair, and was immediately asleep--perhaps dreaming of the bed that she lost, and so convincingly recreated for me earlier in the day.

While Lisa, other children, and their volunteer caregivers were playing in the CDS center, their parents were meeting with representatives of the American Red Cross, FEMA, Salvation Army, and other agencies who could help them with the process of rebuilding their lives out of the chaos left by the storm. When the tired parents retrieved their children from our center at the end of the day, they were a few steps closer to having a home other than the shelter that was now their refuge, and their children were full of stories about the fun they had experienced.

Lisa is just one of the thousands of children and families whose lives have been turned upside down by storms, floods, hurricanes, and other disasters. Working in shelters and service centers under the umbrella of Red Cross and FEMA, CDS has cared for tens of thousands of children, the ones most likely to be forgotten while adults address emergency needs after a disaster. Unfortunately, disasters continue to occur, families continue to be displaced from their homes, and children continue need a safe and nurturing environment to play and learn while their parents cope with their new reality. To fill this need, more volunteer childcare givers will be needed.

I've been privileged to serve as a volunteer caregiver for CDS after floods in Georgia and the Joplin tornado. Few experiences in my life have given me the deep personal satisfaction and sense that I was meeting a tangible need as providing a calm, safe, and reassuring presence for these young children and their families. If you have a warm heart, patience, team spirit, and a sense of adventure, I hope that you'll consider attending one of the CDS training sessions.

-- Myrna Jones, retired director of admissions at Phillips Theological Seminary and member of Bethany Christian Church in Tulsa, Okla., wrote this reflection for a Week of Compassion publication of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It is reprinted here with permission.

Source:10/5/2011 Newsline

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