By: Doyle Rader
Recent wildfires tore through communities in Eastland County, Texas, leaving a trail of smoldering homes and upended lives. As the Eastland Complex fires burned, students at Tarleton State University in nearby Stephenville followed the news reports in disbelief.
A group of psychology seniors got together to think of ways to help. With the assistance of their professor, Dr. Stephanie Robertson, they came up with the idea to build comfort care packages for the American Red Cross to distribute to children affected by the fires.
“They came up with this idea—these kids are losing everything in fires and they’re displaced so they don’t have their home—what are some comfort items that they might benefit from,” Robertson says. “And so, that’s sort of where the idea took root. We were wanting to do something meaningful to contribute to this service opportunity.”
Each kit contained a stuffed animal, blanket, crayons, coloring book and sketch book. They also had hygienic items like a toothbrush and toothpaste.
“It was actually kind of funny because I have a social work intern who went to purchase all these things,” Robertson says. “I sent her with a list, I sent her for stuffed animals. I said, ‘You have to assess huggability on these animals. Don’t buy crunchy, not great stuffed animals. We want really huggable ones.’”
Along with the sketchbook, which had blank pages, the students included a note for parents explaining how drawing is a good outlet to help process trauma.
“We wanted blank pages because kids can process a lot of trauma through art,” Robertson says. “Sometimes they don’t have the word to describe how they’re feeling, but art is also a very visceral process. Trauma is just sometimes stored in the body, and art is a way to process it.”
Robertson is the Director of the Tarleton Center for Child Wellbeing. So, helping children comes naturally to her. With permission from the University, she used funds generated by revenue from the center to pay for the items in the care packages.
When it came down to figuring out how to distribute the items to children, Robertson decided to work with the Red Cross for this project because of her close colleague, Trina Geye. Geye has been an active volunteer with the Red Cross for two years.
“She knows that I’m volunteering with the Red Cross, and that I was involved in the Eastland disaster response,” Geye says. “So, I asked if we could use [the comfort care packages], and the rest is history.”
In all, students assembled 20 kits with the Red Cross distributing them in Eastland and Carbon, Texas. Carbon saw extensive fire damage, and many people lost their homes and belongings.
“This was really a student originated project,” Robertson says. “They really wanted to do something tangible for people who they don’t know but they feel connected to. They came up with this idea. I guided them about some of the things that might be helpful because I know a little bit about trauma.
“They really led this effort. I think, to me, that was the thing that I was most proud of about this, that it was their idea and they created this.”