By Mallory Scheve, American Red Cross contributor

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to carry out the American Red Cross mission. The Red Cross depends on partner organizations to help provide services to those affected by disaster.

Children’s Disaster Services volunteer Connie Rutt plays with 17 month-old Paige at a Red Cross shelter in Richmond, TX. Photo credit: Mallory Scheve/American Red Cross

One of those partners is Children’s Disaster Services, a Church of the Brethren Disaster Ministry. Teams of dedicated volunteers set up child care centers in shelters and disaster assistance centers across the nation when requested by organizations like the Red Cross or FEMA. They arrive with “kits of comfort,” filled with toys that allow children to express themselves, aiding in the healing process.

“Children express emotions and feelings through play,” says Children’s Disaster Services volunteer Connie Rutt. “This is a space where kids can come and feel safe and deal with change and trauma.”

Connie is from Drumore, PA and is currently deployed to a Red Cross shelter in Richmond, TX. She says it’s not only about providing kids a safe place to play and express themselves. They also provide respite to parents who are dealing with the aftermath of a disaster. Sometimes having an hour or two to just shower and do laundry makes all the difference.

Children’s Disaster Services volunteers are located throughout the country. No special skills are required other than a love for working with children. They receive training from the organization and then deploy as needed for two weeks at a time. Local churches create “Kits of Comfort” filled with toys, books, art supplies and other items. These items are loaded into suitcases and volunteers take these with them when they deploy.

Safety is their first priority. They have wristbands that they provide for the parents and children. The parents’ wristband must match the child’s when they pick them up. They also have evacuation plans that are communicated with parents in the case of an emergency.

Connie explains that sometimes it’s hard for parents to trust them when they first move into the shelter, but after a day or two, they’re grateful for the extra support. “We care and we are trained to deal with traumatic experiences. If we can help parents have less stress, they can plan for their recovery,” says Connie.

A Children’s Disaster Services volunteer holds a 3-week old infant at a Red Cross shelter in Richmond, TX. Photo credit: Mallory Scheve/American Red Cross

Another Children’s Disaster Services volunteer, Carol Smith of South Bend, IN, began volunteering because she plans on traveling to Nigeria to open a school for refugee children and she thought the training would be helpful for her future plans. When asked why she felt it was important to serve others, she said, “None of us know when it’ll be us that need help.” No one expects to experience a disaster, but when it happens, organizations like Children’s Disaster Services makes coping a little easier. Connie says, “If we can help children get through the trauma of a disaster, it can impact them the rest of their lives.”