Helping Kids Cope with Disaster

Story and photos by Greta Gustafson/American Red Cross

Annamarie Gallagher has always wanted to serve with the American Red Cross, and when a disaster hit her home state of North Carolina, she decided to make it happen. For the past week, Gallagher has been in a shelter in Goldsboro to provide Disaster Mental Health support.

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Gallagher talks with Najada,6, about her day at school. Najada is staying with her family at the shelter in Goldsboro, NC

“I feel like I’m really starting to get to know people, which is the good and the hard part because you have to know their stories so you know what kind of resources they need, but then you really get invested,” said Gallagher. “You really want things to turnaround for them.”

For many of the residents, they have been in shelters following Hurricane Matthew for nearly a month. Gallagher focuses on providing a safe space for people to let out their frustrations before sitting down to discuss what’s next.

Gallagher, mother to a one and three-year-old, is especially moved by the children in the shelter. She reflects on the 18-month year old who runs around the shelter like it is her house because she doesn’t know any different, and the 6 year-old who tells her about the snake that came into her living room because of the water.

While in the shelter, the county has made sure the children are still able to attend school and have that normal routine to ground them. Gallagher, and the rest of the Red Cross shelter staff, try to have activities, such as coloring and sidewalk chalk, every evening when they return to provide a personal space that is usually hard to come by both at school and in a shelter.

“The only thing a child really wants is to see somebody’s eye light up when they’re in the room,” said Gallagher on how she connects with the kids. “I want to know about them, and having an adult who’s interested in those parts of their world is just amazing for them.”

However, Gallagher truly finds her inspiration in these children. “We as adults can learn a lot from them, we really can,” said Gallagher. “About resilience, about joy, about having a good attitude in really not so great circumstances.”

Gallagher is also there for the Red Cross volunteers, who have been working tirelessly

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Gallagher gets a hug from one of the children living at the shelter in Golsdboro, NC.

since the hurricane hit. She gives them the same advice she gives the residents: try to find a space for yourself, even if it’s just for a moment or two. She encourages volunteers to not get discouraged by what is directly in front of them, but to see the larger picture and know they are making a difference.

“I just hope anybody who loves to serve, and anybody who loves to take care of people can go out with the Red Cross sometime,” said Gallagher, “because it’s an amazing experience.”

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