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Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union, volunteers team up to serve the ‘sometimes forgotten victims’ across Alabama in disaster relief child care unitscomment (0)

May 12, 2011

By Leigh Pritchett

While some volunteers are busy with visible relief efforts, others are assisting behind the scenes, caring for small and vulnerable disaster victims — the children.

The disaster relief child care team members operate units that provide a safe and loving place for the children to stay as their parents apply for assistance or clean up their home site.

“Sometimes I think we are the best-kept secret in Southern Baptist disaster relief,” said Donna Swarts, of Magee, Miss., national child care coordinator for Southern Baptist disaster relief, as well as a member of the disaster relief task forces of the Mississippi Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board.

Alabama has two disaster relief child care units: one that is operated by the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) and one that is a ministry of Tuscaloosa Baptist Association.

At press time, the SBOM unit was stationed in Rainsville, where an average of 30 children a day received the care of volunteers, said Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) President Becky Luther, who serves as the state disaster relief coordinator for child care.

The unit was set up at a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) service center.

People go to a FEMA service center to complete forms necessary for applying for government aid. Going through this process can take hours, said Luther, a member of East Gadsden Baptist Church in Etowah Baptist Association.

During their time in the child care unit, the children sing songs, play games, enjoy a meal and do crafts.

They also hear stories about God and Jesus, a very important component of the care because “the majority are unchurched,” Luther added.

As a means to help the children feel better, they were given a toy, blanket and health kit as they left the Rainsville site, she said, noting the parents of babies were given diapers and wipes.

One important aspect of the disaster relief child care is that the volunteers give the children the opportunity to talk about their experience.

“They will talk to us about what happened and we listen,” Luther said. In fact, the children sometimes sense their parents’ distress and will not tell them how they are feeling.

On May 3, the volunteers were caring for a 7-year-old girl who had not spoken since a tornado ripped through DeKalb County on April 27. One volunteer gave her some paper so that she could draw a picture. When the worker asked her what color crayon she would like to have, the girl replied, “Green.”

After that, she began to communicate with the volunteers. Her mother cried when she came to get her and heard her speak, Luther said.

That behavior is not uncommon among children who have experienced a disaster, she said. The children have lost their homes, their toys, their security base.

“They just don’t understand,” Luther said.

The volunteers try to help the children by assuring them that everything will be all right and possessions can be replaced. They also explain that situations happen that people do not understand. Sometimes the children have lost a family member and just need to hear that God is love.

On May 5, five volunteers were in Phil Campbell, another area of the state devastated by the April 27 storms. One of the four second-grade teachers at Phil Campbell Elementary School was among the more than 20 people killed in the town. The volunteers were available to allow students to talk through their feelings and thoughts, Luther said.

The primary reason for disaster relief child care is to “provide a safe, loving environment for children who have gone through incredible circumstances” and assist parents in crisis, said Candace McIntosh, executive director of Alabama WMU.

McIntosh explained that WMU facilitates training and provides volunteers for disaster relief child care. The child care component for disaster relief receives funding through the Cooperative Program and the Kathleen Mallory State Missions Offering for state WMU ministries.

McIntosh described disaster relief child care as a “niche” ministry that meets a need that often is overlooked.
“This is a very important ministry,” she said.

After Hurricane Katrina, McIntosh read in an article that the way in which a child is treated in the aftermath of a disaster influences the adult that he or she will become.

For this reason, it is crucial for children who have experienced a disaster to receive the love and care of someone who knows Jesus, officials say. The children — sometimes the forgotten victims — get from child care volunteers the attention and security that their parents may be too grieved, busy or distracted to provide at that time, McIntosh said.

Bebe Barnett added that the volunteers help to create some normalcy in the lives of children who have seen their “world” torn up.

Barnett, director of Tuscaloosa Association’s child care unit and a member of Northport Baptist Church, worked with Hurricane Katrina evacuees who came to Tuscaloosa in 2005.

She and the other volunteers found that the children looked forward to returning to the unit stationed at Skyland Boulevard Baptist Church each day.

They just needed someone to love them at that particular time in their lives, Barnett observed.

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