Disaster can have a devastating effect on the young. When children are pulled from their homes, placed in an unfamiliar environment and frightened by an unknown future, recovery requires a different kind of care and comfort. In American Red Cross shelters, children find joy and comfort among new friends.
Children's artwork decorates a wall in the Children's Disaster Services child care center, housed within the Red Cross Shelter in Ramona, Calif. Photo credit: Children's Disaster Services
Some play ball and laugh, while others quietly draw under the protective supervision of child-care professionals. In a corner decorated by water-color paintings, a young crowd listens intently to the enthusiastic storytelling of a kind, gray-haired man. "The children don't want to leave," said John Elms, Children's Disaster Services project manager. "They are having fun."
This past October, wildfires forced hundreds of families in California to leave their homes with only the clothes they wore and the keepsakes they could carry. Immediately, the American Red Cross welcomed them into shelters and called on a long-time partner, the Church of the Brethren, for help. The Church's program, Children's Disaster Services, creates a haven in Red Cross shelters for disaster-weary children. Prompting smiles and laughter, this partnership helps parents and their children prevail in the aftermath of catastrophe.
As parents found solace and support with Red Cross disaster workers, their children found fun and games with Children's Disaster Services. Volunteers employ therapeutic play and structured activities including crafts, puzzles and interactive games to encourage children to express their emotions and, in the end, overcome the otherwise often misunderstood expressions of loss and devastation resulting from the wildfires.
Structured play time at the Children's Disaster Services child care center, housed within the Red Cross Shelter in Ramona. Photo credit: Children's Disaster Services
Carol Elms, regional director for Children's Disaster Services and wife of John Elms, explains that when a child's artwork or behavior reflects feelings of angst, Red Cross mental health workers and Children's Disaster Services volunteers work together to alleviate the youngsters' emotional distress.
"We create a safe place where kids can be kids," Elms said. "Through art and play, children can express themselves better than they can with words."
Reflecting upon the unique partnership between the Red Cross and Children's Disaster Services, Elms said, "It's been a wonderful relationship. If we see a problem with a child, we can go to Red Cross mental health workers, who will walk us through it."
Children's Disaster Services project manager John Elms poses with the Cavallero family at the Red Cross shelter at Del Mar Fairgrounds. William Pitts/American Red Cross
This team ensured the happiness and comfort of nearly 1,000 children affected by the wildfires. Knowing that their children were under the protective care of Children's Disaster Services, parents were free to tend to their recovery needs.
Donations to the American Red Cross ensure that we can request help from partners like Church of Brethren to give families and individuals the compassionate care and the resources they need for relief. Together, we can alleviate suffering and restore hope for the future.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization – not a government agency – and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.