By Kathleen Fry-Miller
Hurricane Katrina changed the lives of children and families. They were profoundly affected throughout the evacuation process, as they moved into new states and communities or returned to rebuild, and as their families created a way forward over the past 10 years.
Children’s Disaster Services (CDS, then known as Disaster Child Care) was a part of the resilience effort to reach as many children as possible at the time. Coordinator Helen Stonesifer deployed the CDS teams in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to 14 different sites across the country, and she also provided ongoing support to each team out on assignment.
From Sept. 7-Oct. 27, 2005, 113 CDS volunteers cared for 2,749 children, putting in 1,122 working days.
A year and a half later, CDS caregivers served children and families in the “Welcome Home” center in New Orleans. From Jan. 3-Sept. 11, 2007, 61 volunteers cared for 2,097 children, putting in 933 working days.
It was truly both hard work and a blessing to care for the children of Hurricane Katrina. I served with an outstanding team of caregivers in Lafayette and Gonzales, La., five weeks after the storm. A vivid memory that stands out in my mind was the focus of the children’s experience on houses–after so many houses had been destroyed. They played house, they drew and painted houses, they talked about houses, they created houses out of boxes or blocks or any play materials they could find.
While we saw some difficult and disturbing behaviors at times, we also saw joy in the smiles of the children as they played. One little boy got inside a cardboard box, closed the “doors” (the cardboard flaps), and began to pound on the sides of the box. We were a bit concerned about what kind of deep-felt emotion he might be expressing. But then he opened up the sides and announced, “We’re having a party in here. This is some party!”
It was a profoundly moving experience to share in the hope and resilience of the little ones. We were touched by the family members who stopped in to tell us their stories of grief and loss, as well as to express appreciation for the time their children were able to be with us.
To learn more about the unique perspective of teens and young adults who were children in New Orleans when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, check out the Katrina Voices storytelling project of the Louisiana Children’s Museum at http://lcm.org/community-engagement/katrina-voices . The stories of these children portray journeys of personal growth, from adversity and uncertainty to love and resilience, in the 10 years following Hurricane Katrina.
— Kathleen Fry-Miller is associate director of Children’s Disaster Services, a program of Brethren Disaster Ministries and Global Mission and Service. Find out more about Children’s Disaster Services at www.brethren.org/cds .