By Kathy Fry-Miller with Sharon Franzén
As Brethren Disaster Ministries’ first responder to disasters, Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) is always on alert for opportunities to serve a disaster’s youngest survivors, providing childcare and a safe and secure place for children to begin their own healing process through play.
These past few weeks have provided several opportunities for CDS volunteers to put their compassion, training, and servant leadership into practice.
Summer storm flooding
CDS is responding in two locations to the powerful storm system that began on July 25 and caused destructive and deadly flooding from the St. Louis, Mo., area to southeastern Kentucky and parts of Virginia and West Virginia.
A team of four CDS volunteers deployed in less than 24 hours to serve for two days in a MARC (Multi Agency Resource Center) in the Friendly Temple Baptist Church in St. Louis. CDS volunteers are located around the country, so fortunately two were immediately available locally and two others traveled from outside the area. The team had a very nice room in which to receive the children and saw 34 during their two days. CDS was requested by the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency via Gary Gahm, district disaster coordinator for the Church of the Brethren’s Missouri and Arkansas District. CDS remains in touch with Gahm in case other opportunities to serve arise due to the flooding.
CDS also is responding in eastern Kentucky through the national Red Cross. A team of four volunteers are serving in a shelter in Jackson, Ky., and so far have seen 34 children affected by the flooding. The Red Cross considers this to be a mass casualty response, so all of the volunteers needed additional mental health screening. The need for additional volunteers to serve in Kentucky after these volunteers leave next week has yet to be determined.
Pearl Miller, CDS project manager for this response, said, “People have been wonderfully kind to us and one another. Communities have been overwhelmingly generous. They are trying to help each other more than any other place I’ve been.”
Responding to needs of asylum seekers
Southern California CDS volunteers continue to provide childcare once a week for children whose families have received an asylum designation and are housed at Claremont (Calif.) School of Theology. Most families are Haitian, but they also have seen children from Afghanistan, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Russia, and Venezuela. Project manager Rosemarie Terbrusch commented that “as the children we work with are quite young, some of them have been born, many in Mexico, since the parents have been on their journey.” Since they began the response on April 28, the CDS volunteers have served 80 children.
As reported last week, CDS volunteers also are serving families seeking asylum in the Washington, D.C., area, working through Church of the Brethren congregations and a collaborative of mutual aid organizations. The volunteers, who will serve Sundays at least through August, provide a safe space for the children, many of whom have been traveling and living in difficult circumstances for a very long time. It is a place to play and be a kid again. In three weeks, they have worked with 17 children.
Volunteer Gladys Remnant gives an idea of the impact this type of service can have: “What I saw yesterday was a gift from the heart to the families who are transitioning. The families appeared to be so appreciative and the children were just precious. They were engaged with the activities we provided, with lots of smiles. And like the energizer bunny…just kept going and going, even when they were obviously well past exhaustion status, no meltdowns or anger issues. It was actually pretty amazing! And we received the biggest, most wonderful hugs from the last two children right before they left!”