Christian Gray, an energetic 4-year-old boy, latched onto our Red Crossers the moment upon arriving at the shelter in Marrero, Louisiana. He ran over in furry monster slippers, three times the size of his actual feet, that he refused to take off. Coming from a large family, Christian is the second youngest with his baby sister, Christina just three months old. With the approval of his parents, Christian was our shadow for the morning, showing us around the shelter, holding our hands and jumping on backs insisting on a piggyback ride. He even showed us how good he was at counting and would race to see who could count to 20 the fastest, of course, he always won.
Following close behind Christian was Crystal Baker, Project Manager with Children’s Disaster Services (CDS), who met us with a bright smiling face, excited to talk about the partnership between them and the American Red Cross.
Since 1980 CDS, a program of Brethren Disaster Ministries, has been meeting the needs of children by setting up childcare 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 during the chaos created by disasters.
“Our mission is to serve the children,” says Crystal “and allow for the children to have a safe space and have some normalcy. They have experienced a lot of change and a lot of uprooting.”
Their warm and inviting volunteers, Lydia, Toni, Pat and Betty are experts at getting creative to find a safe space to set up an area just for the children. As they began setting up in the PARD Playground shelter, they found large empty boxes that could help serve as a barrier and enclosure for the children’s play area. However, the children had another vision for these boxes. The volunteer’s intent was no longer relevant as the children had turned the boxes into houses with actual doors that allowed them to go inside. One of the boxes even had a pretend stove.
Seeing the imagination of these children at work reminds you of their resiliency. Imagine the children not having pretend houses, markers to draw, blocks to build with and volunteers to play with. The critical work of CDS was witnessed first-hand.
Another family, originally from Honduras, had four children all between the ages of one and 13 years old. The oldest, a brother to three younger sisters was highly attentive and engaged with each of them, giving their mom and dad a few moments of rest. Pat shared Estefany, the second oldest at age 10, had not put down the markers since they arrived, “She’s quite the artist,” says Pat.
The common missions between the Red Cross and CDS are what make the partnership so fluid and effortless – the needs of those impacted by disasters are paramount. “We will go where the need is”, says Crystal.
By Siara Campbell, American Red Cross Public Affairs