"I Was Screaming Inside" — Helping Kids Cope
|Anthony and Eliana sit with their mother on the steps of their home, which was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Photo Credit: Susan Warner|
Hurricane Sandy stranded Anthony, 7, and Eliana, 9, in their Staten Island home for 15 days. There was no electricity, no way to cook the food their mom had stockpiled, and no way the children could be sure the rushing waters wouldn't return.
Their mom, Nancy, recalls one day months later when she was sitting on the couch.
"My son comes to me and tells me, 'You know mom, I wanted to tell you the day of the storm I was screaming inside.'
"It was a good thing I was sitting when he told me," she says, "because my knees would have buckled."
Sandy's impact continues to ripple across Nancy's family long after the floodwaters receded.
"After the hurricane, I noticed a change," she says. "My daughter cried a lot, for all her things and for what happened. My son got angry very angry, everything made him angry. I didn't know how or what made him angry so quick. That wasn't him, that didn't used to be him."
No More Halloween, No More Toys
|At home in his room, Anthony finds comfort in a furry friend when he feels sad or scared about the potential of another storm hitting his Staten Island neighborhood. Photo Credit: Susan Warner|
The day of the storm, the water poured down the street in a wave. Nancy and her husband put life vests on the children and hurried them upstairs when the water started flooding the house. The children were frightened, but in the days following they tried to be strong.
"I felt so bad when everybody kept saying it was Halloween and that they went somewhere else," Eliana says. "We didn't have a car. We just stayed inside, cold, freezing. We ate, but we didn't have power to cook. It was cold and we needed something warm."
But the children didn't break down until they saw all their toys, their bikes, the little desks where they did their homework get hauled out of the flooded basement and tossed on the lawn to throw away.
"We said, 'Don't worry. It's just things. It can be replaced,'" Nancy recounts.
For months, Nancy had to make sure to turn off the news when the weather came on for Anthony's sake.
"Every time they would say there is a storm, even if it was in California, he would start crying and jumping up and down. 'Not Again! Not Again!' he'd say. Even if it was snowing, he'd keep saying 'Could the snow flood the basement? Could it?'"
Journey of Hope
|Like any 7-year-old, Anthony was angry that Hurricane Sandy had uprooted his life. Through a Journey of Hope program offered by Save the Children and Staten Island Mental Health, he learned how to cope with difficult emotions through interactive activities like the parachute game. Photo Credit: Susan Warner|
When a representative from the Staten Island Mental Health Society came to Anthony and Eliana's school and said they'd be offering a therapeutic summer camp using Save the Children's Journey of Hope emotional recovery program, Nancy said she felt like her prayers had been answered.
"This to me is better than going to mental health at a hospital," Nancy says. "This is all the kids having fun, doing games, writing down what scares them. My daughter loves the stress ball they made for whenever you feel anxious. She brings it everywhere she goes."
Eliana says she loves the special teddy bear that she decorated in the program.
"If I get scared, like during a nightmare, I would, like, hug it. One example is I am still scared of the rainstorms. I usually wake up and hug it. I feel better and I fall asleep again," she says.
In group sessions, Anthony has sometimes been reluctant to talk about the anger his mom and teachers still see, but he is quick to say he loves jumping around during the parachute exercises and that Journey of Hope is a good thing.
"I think it's important to the kids because then they know how to feel better and be strong and calm down easily," he says.
Longing to Feel Safe at Home Again
Existing mental health services are often ill-equipped to deal with the special needs of large numbers of children impacted by disaster. Save the Children offers Journey of Hope programming and training to help fill schools and communities the gap. Children have fun together, work through the stress, fear and loss they have experienced and gain coping skills to protect against longer-term impact on their emotional health.
Things are improving for Nancy's family, but it's a slow process, she says.
"My son lost that feeling that no matter what, you're safe at home. And I hate that. I want them to feel like no matter what happens out there you come home and you're safe," she says. "That kills me that he doesn't have that anymore. I'm hoping that in time he'll be better.