Karen Colville, Education Specialist
Save the Children USA
September 27, 2013
There were many success stories that occurred this week during the Colorado Flood response, but I didn’t think anything could top the Family Fun Night event that we threw at the Greeley Recreation Center for the shelter victims. In less than 12 hours, Save the Children teamed up with the American Red Cross and coordinated a spectacular event for the families staying at the shelter. I am truly still in shock at the amount of excitement and momentum that we generated so quickly. Everyone was on board and focused on making this night one unforgettable evening.
The flurry of events that occurred rapidly in a just one day was a true testimony at what can be accomplished when we partner with other organizations for a common goal. Once receiving the “go ahead,” we were able to line up a team of 15 AmeriCorps volunteers to deploy and help out, enlist the Salvation Army to feed the families, create and print posters and flyers to distribute, and receive numerous donations from local organizations who believed in our cause. Bags of face paint, game prizes, bouncy castles – (yes there were two donated for the night) cotton candy and popcorn machines, and a friendship bracelets company were the featured headliners for the big night. What compelled us to want to create and throw a huge carnival type event in under 24 hours?
That’s easy to answer…it was because of the families we had worked with all week. We simply wanted to give them a night to laugh, to play, to rejuvenate their spirit… and to forget. To forget that they were sleeping in a large gym amongst strangers on cots and pillows that didn’t smell like home. To forget that for so many of them, they had no home to return too, nor anyone they knew locally to stay with. To forget, if only for a few hours, that this shelter, their temporary home, might soon close. Yes, an evening to forget – but also an evening to remember, celebrate and give thanks for family, friends and life.
The gym itself was a whirlwind of activity! We kicked it off by having all the families enter the gym and sit on the bleachers, and then in Olympic style fashion, ran their children, homemade torch and all, into the gym and complete a lap around a track. The energy and excitement was felt and shared (by all) as the families competed in a friendly relay race, played and jumped in bouncy houses, and then took turns playing a variety of carnival games we had created. The evening concluded with one of our staff volunteers playing the guitar and everyone, and I do mean everyone singing favorite children’s songs. It was truly a magical and beautiful evening. The family fun night that we made happen in less than 24 hours was pretty unbelievable and I honestly didn’t think anything could top it.
But believe it or not, the most memorable moment for me night wasn’t the relay race, where parents cheered on their kids and ran along with them, nor was it the bouncy castles that both children and adults enjoyed. Not watching the volunteer arts club from a local university who attended the event to create Paracord survival bracelets with the children or seeing all their smiling faces as they ran around covered with face paint and glitter. It wasn’t the amazing AmeriCorps volunteers happily spinning the cotton candy onto the sticks or singing and dancing as I lead everyone in the ‘Tooty- Ta’ song. The evening indeed was truly magical and filled with many beautiful and memorable moments. But for me, the one I will never forget occurred long after the Family Fun Night had ended. It was the moment when we gave flood victim, Tonie, a pack –n-play for her son, Josiah.
We met Tonie when we opened a Child-Friendly Space at the shelter. She had been staying there for 8 days along with her 4 year old daughter, 18 month son and was 6 months pregnant with her fourth child. She literally has lost everything and to make matters worse, just days before the flood, her husband was deported, leaving her to care for the children alone. I cannot even begin to imagine the heartache, loss and despair she must be feeling. Yet if you met Tonie, you would never know how hard things must be for her right now.
During the entire time I worked at the shelter, I never once saw her without a smile on her face and hope in her eyes. She exuded joy, and love everywhere she went and continued to be a bright light for all in the shelter, even amidst the devastation. Her excitement and enthusiasm was contagious and her love for friends, family and life could be felt from both her and her beautiful children. Her babies brought such joy into our staff life’s…we will never forget them. Josiah and Janie…vibrant, hilariously funny, a love for song and dance, they were always full of love and joy…just like their mother.
When we learned that she had been strapping her baby in a stroller to sleep at night and because he would sleep walk and she feared losing him, we acted quickly. There are few words to express what it meant to see the expression on her face. With tears running down her cheeks, much like the tears that are flowing from my own eyes as I type this…she expressed her gratitude for Josiah now having a safe place to sleep As she thanked us over and over again, I couldn’t help but think that it should be me thanking her. For teaching me that even in the most difficult of times to still believe in the goodness of others. That there can still be laughter, and that a smile goes along way. I am honored to have met her and her children, and can honestly say that Tonie’s story’ is the one moment I will never forget.