News Articles

Child-care volunteers make impact on youngest victims of attack

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (BP)–“Did you know my daddy’s castle fell down?” the 7-year-old boy asked Judy Freeman, a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer from Westchester, Ohio. “My daddy was in his castle and he died.”

Later the boy drew four pictures of castles bearing some resemblance to the World Trade Center, along with fire, destruction, people — and question marks.

For many, the charred seven acres in lower Manhattan remains the most striking symbol of the horror of Sept. 11. But Freeman and other child-care volunteers at the New Jersey Family Assistance Center realize there’s another ground zero that might be far more significant. It is the one that will shadow these children the rest of their lives.

The child-care unit, operational since Oct. 7, has been the volunteers’ chance to make a difference while family members spend hours completing paperwork and otherwise dealing with up to 30 different relief agencies maintaining offices at the center.

“They call this the sunshine corner, or the bright spot,” said Betty Sampley, director of the unit, which serves both immediate family members of victims as well as those who have lost jobs or were in some other way impacted directly by the attack.

“We have had so many comments that there may be tears outside these four walls, but there’s laughter inside,” said Sampley, a member of First Baptist Church of Huber Heights, Ohio.

“Their role is extremely important,” added Bob Bellan, who manages the Family Assistance Center for the State of New Jersey. “The Southern Baptists have been able to alleviate some of the pressure on these families, so they focus in on what they need to focus on to receive these services.

“Without them,” he added, “I think it would be a very disruptive process for the family. It would be more pressure on them, and in some cases people would not come here for the services.”

The Family Assistance Center is located in Liberty State Park, in the building where immigrants coming in from Ellis Island once began their new lives in America. Today it is the place where an average of 60-70 families make headway each day toward their new post-Sept. 11 lives. They might be seeking assistance from agencies, taking a special ferry across the Hudson River to visit ground zero, or receiving a symbolic urn full of ashes as a memorial to their loved ones.

In a partitioned area of the center’s main hall, however, children from 12 weeks to 12 years old find an oasis amid the sorrow. Nearly 400 children have spent time with the child-care volunteers, although Sampley said numbers “don’t tell the tale” in a situation where each child’s needs and care are so individualized.

Emergency child care has been a part of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief on a coordinated national basis since 1994, and a similar unit from South Carolina began operations in mid-November at an assistance center operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in lower Manhattan. The units carry in a trailer everything they need — from toys, books and games in boxes for all ages to the materials and procedures required to keep everything clean and safe.

Children who often are withdrawn and non-communicative when they first arrive eventually respond to the love offered by the volunteer staff.

One 7-year-old boy had just found out the night before that his mother would not be returning home, having died in the World Trade Center Sept. 11. By the time he left, he had formed a bond with the workers and was even reluctant to leave. “He was a completely different boy from what we had seen that morning,” she said. “He had to come tell me goodbye.”

In another case, a 12-year-old girl came into the center and just rocked her doll for two hours “without saying three words,” Sampley said. “That was her security all day, and we didn’t intrude.

“She came back the next day, and she had so much fun that she was excited about coming back,” Sampley continued. She too drew a picture, a heart encircling a face with tears. She spoke little English, but the message was clear. “You know — hurting heart,” she said.

The volunteers also have had an effect on adults. A Hindu man expressed interest in learning about “American beliefs,” and Sampley explained the range of Bibles and tracts available for free from the registration table in front of him. Later she saw him reading a “Here’s Hope” tract in one of the Bibles.

“The last time he was here he asked for a pad of paper,” she said. “He wanted to write some questions that he wanted to ask us the next time he came in.”

“We’ve had a lot of seed to sow,” she added later. “We claim the promise that God’s Word will not return void.”

Another time she had an opportunity to talk with someone whose husband had lost his job in the hotel business.

“She said, ‘You folks here have given me so much faith,'” Sampley related. “And all we did was carry on a conversation with her. But we felt like it was the love of God flowing through us that made her feel better.”

The center’s other staffers also have come to appreciate the ministry of the Ohio volunteers — who each wear yellow Southern Baptist Disaster Relief vests. One of the counselors seemed to find comfort in just touching a Bible one day, before returning the next day to actually pick one up. Others like to just stand and watch the children, enjoying the break from the sadness they often face.

Jim Reynolds, a member of Bluffton (Ohio) Baptist Church, said the ministry is not without its emotional hazards, and volunteers are debriefed daily by mental health professionals to make sure they are coping with the emotional stress. But the volunteers also know that the impact of their ministry could last a lifetime.

“One of the mental health care workers told us that many of the kids will grow up and never even know why yellow is their favorite color,” he said.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: EMERGENCY CHILD-CARE.

    About the Author

  • James Dotson