Partnering to Serve Children When Disaster Strikes

Red Cross volunteer spends time with child
“You can see relief in the parent’s faces when they find they can drop off their children in our care"

He was a little guy, sitting on the floor with blocks strewn everywhere. “All day he’s been building houses and then tearing them down. He is still at a pre-verbal stage, but I think he is processing what he and his family went through in the storm,” explained Myrna Jones, a volunteer with the Children’s Disaster Services (CDS).

Since 1997 CDS, a ministry of the Church of the Brethren, has been an important part of the American Red Cross Critical Response team. A team of CDS volunteers are on call around the clock and committed to responding with support for children and families within 4 hours whenever disaster strikes.

In Oklahoma, the CDS is at the Red Cross managed Multi-Agency Resource Center in Moore, Oklahoma. They provide activities for children of families affected by the recent tornadoes while their parents register with the Red Cross and the many other agencies that are also on site to provide a one-stop sign-up for storm recovery resources. “You can see relief in the parent’s faces when they find they can drop off their children in our care,” said Katie Mees, a volunteer with CDS.

CDS volunteers are carefully screened and undergo extensive training, including a simulation in collaboration with the Red Cross of what it is like to respond to a disaster and to live for weeks in a staff shelter. “We are looking for men and women who really care about children,” said CDS volunteer Myrna Jones. Many of the CDS volunteers have backgrounds in child development, psychology, or play therapy.

When the CDS volunteers deploy they bring what they call their “Kit of Comfort,” which consists of two large suitcases filled with therapeutic games and activities for children. “One of our favorites is a tub of rice,” said Jones. “Running your fingers through the rice is very calming.” Other favorites are shaving-cream creations, water painting, blocks, puzzles, animal cards, and bead creations. “We work hard to create a positive atmosphere. You do not hear the word “No” here. We try to redirect a child’s energy in a positive direction and give them a chance to get in a safe place,” said Jones.

When it comes time to deploy, only about one in ten of the CDS trained volunteers are in a position to do so, explained John Elms, the CDS site manager. One does not need to be a member of the Church of the Brethren to be a volunteer, and CDS is actively recruiting disaster responders. More information about CDS can be found on their web site at http://www.brethren.org/cds/.