Of course, for many students, it's not. If they are not huddled with their families on the second floors of their house, some had to spend last night on the roof, praying for a rescue. Those who have been rescued are transported to one of the shelters available through the Red Cross, various churches and houses of worship throughout the area, and other facilities.
No one can say for sure how long people will need to stay in shelters. Many must now make plans to connect with family, friends, or find a place to live for the next few months, if not years.
Today is devastatingly far from what they planned.
Among the many challenges facing Texas and Louisiana communities today, care of children and youth is vital. The experiences children and youth have during this storm and its aftermath will greatly impact the rest of their lives. Caring adults and youth leaders can enhance that impact for the better.
Below are tips for youth workers to help care for their volunteer leaders and youth in the wake of a massive storm. The role of a youth leader can be very rewarding and challenging even in the most ordinary of circumstances. A traumatic event in the magnitude of a hurricane forces us beyond the usual and into un-charted ministry (even if we have experienced a natural disaster before). The majority of youth leaders never signed up for "post hurricane ministry". Yet, here you are. Be the leader you are called to be, right now.
- Trust in God to give you strength, peace, and wisdom. The ability to walk with your youth through the post-trauma of this event begins with the health of your relationship to God. God will be the constant through this experience when no person or thing can offer consistency. Breathe slowly, and allow the Holy Spirit to flow through you and around you.
- Long-term restoration ministry is a marathon, not sprint. Keep in mind the Phases of Collective Trauma Response. You’re facing at least two years, if not more, of shock, healing, and rebuilding. For children and youth, their ordinary developmental growth does not stop. As you know, these years are critical. Even more so, in the aftermath of disaster.
- Check that all of your volunteer leaders and youth are out of harm’s way. Establish a way of checking in through a private facebook page, a texting thread, email, or in-person contacts. Make sure everyone is accounted for and knows their church family cares, even if you cannot be physically together.
- Care for your closest relationships. As caring people, our asset is that we care for others. Our liability is we care for others, sometimes, at the expense of those for whom we should be caring the most. Be sure your family is well, keep healthy boundaries and check on them often. If you do not have a family of your own, take care of your closest relationships – people you share a home with or your closest friends. Have others hold you accountable for your self-care.
- Follow the process of calming, connecting and communicating with your youth ministry people.
Calm – Once everyone is out of harm’s way, use a regular group meeting time to debrief with volunteer leaders and youth or setup a special time
- If your volunteers and youth cannot assemble, continue to strive to assemble at least virtually to the extent possible. Send messages of encouragement to as many as possible. Depending on the size of your group, if necessary, assign volunteer leaders to groups of youth for regular virtual check-ins.
- Once you are able to assemble in person, make space for members, who want to, to briefly tell about their experience with the storm. Do not force anyone to talk. If people do not want to share about their experiences, you can invite them to express their perspective through other forms – writing, lighting a tea candle, or drawing. Depending on the size of your group this could be done as one group or small groups facilitated by volunteer leaders.
- As people express anxiety, encourage them to breathe slowly.
- Invite members, if they choose, to share their present fears and what has helped so far. "What do you worry about now?" "In what ways have you experienced a breath of fresh air, or a moment of relief?" "Who have been some of the people who have helped you so far?" Be a good listener.
- Invite your volunteers and youth to sing familiar songs. Singing helps a group calm together.
- Spend time reading selected Psalms of comfort or lament and praying together.
Connect – The role of the leaders is to love and care for the youth. The role of the youth is to look after each other. In this or other settings remind youth and leaders the value of your church family, their own nuclear families, their friendships, and other caring adults in their lives including teachers or neighbors. A healthy community looks out for each other and one another’s well-being.
- When it's safe, find a way to assemble. In the meantime, keep in touch virtually when possible.
- Depending on the size of your group, it may be helpful to assign volunteer leaders small groups of youth to keep in touch with to encourage and pray with until you can reassemble.
- Make sure each youth has at least one trustworthy, reliable, caring adult who they can share their experience with each day. That may be a family member, friend, counselor, teacher, or church leader.
- When you find a youth who does not have a trustworthy, reliable, caring adult to be connected with each day, do your best to get them connected.
Communicate – Here is a short “game plan” to ensure an efficient communication flow during this long-term recovery season.
- Use all available mediums to inform parents, youth and leaders of how you're keeping in touch while a part, and of debriefing and gathering times. Repeat, repeat, repeat. (When people are traumatized, they struggle to take in information. Be kind and repeat.)
- Establish and publicize the email and phone connection point for those who still need resources, housing, food, support and encouragement during these days. Create (or access through your church) a reliable system for needs to be expressed and met.
- Assemble a community resource sheet for further help to youth and families, including mental and spiritual health services. Post this list on the church/youth ministry webpage, send out as an email attachment and have hard copies available. (Repeat!)
ICTG's Resource Guide for Youth Ministry can be a helpful support for you and your leaders over the next year or two. For online versions, order here. Contact us directly for hardcopies.
Remember, long-term recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re one of your water stations along the way. Stop in when you need some support to keep going.