Residents of a children’s shelter in Galveston fled to the Hill Country before Hurricane Ike struck, but now they find themselves in a summer camp in Hays County with no idea when they’ll be able to return.
Mary Orange, Vice President of The Children’s Center, said they are prepared to stay in the camp through Christmas and it looks like they may have to.
The problem, of course, is that their facility on Galveston Island is too damaged to house the youngsters; Galveston Island itself is not yet a healthy place for children. And there’s no idea when that will change.
“We don’t know the full extent of the damage back in Galveston,” said Executive Director Terri Ward, “but we do know it was severe. Not only was The Children’s Center heavily damaged, but so were the homes of our staff members.”
Like the other staff, Ward also was a hurricane victim, although damage to her home on Bolivar Peninsula was not as great. And like them, she is torn between her duty to care for the kids in her care and the need to get back home to make her own repairs.
The important thing, though, is that all the children are safe.
As Ike was bearing down on the island, they loaded into buses and rolled northwest to Camp Young Judea, near Wimberley. Through the summer, the camp is packed with kids; in September, it’s empty, and that made it a perfect fit for 75 young residents. It would be an adventure for a few days — or weeks. But now things are different.
Almost half of the original campers, mostly homeless children, have been returned to other facilities nearer Galveston.
Those left are mostly teenagers being held by immigration authorities. Some eventually will be shown to be illegal immigrants, and will be returned home. Others will turn out to be here legally, and will be freed.
“But some are special cases,” Ward explained, “like the human trafficking victims who were sold by their own parents into virtual slavery. They certainly can’t be returned home.
“Neither can those who crossed the border because they got crossways with street gangs. Sending them home would be a death sentence.”
For the moment, everyone’s safe. The camp is a secure...if spartan...residence, comfortable as long as the weather stays nice. The teenagers are in school in Wimberley.
The essentials, like food and shelter, are covered, but the things that make life more pleasant are largely missing.
“We all left Galveston with what we could carry on the buses,” Ward recalled. “Not everyone thought to grab toothpaste, or school clothes, or recreation equipment. A couple of weeks without TV and they’re going into withdrawal.”
First United Methodist Church of Johnson City is one that has ridden to the rescue. The church made a first delivery of toiletry kits and a highly-prized television set. A second delivery included clothing, toys, games, recreation equipment and another TV.
But Pastor Sid Spiller said much more is needed.
“Used clothing for teenagers to wear to school is at the top of the list. But not just for teenagers, because the staff and their families also fled with few belongings, and now need to replace almost everything. So clothing for adults and smaller children are needed, too.”
For instance, one pregnant woman and her two-year-old rode out the storm on the island before they were rescued and brought to the camp. In addition to children’s clothes, she needs size nine maternity wear.
When he visited the camp to make the first delivery, Spiller learned the few Spanish-language Bibles had been snatched up by the teens. When he returned to his office, he made a quick call to The Gideons, and a case of Bibles in Spanish is on the way.
“Another need is opportunities for the staff and their families to blow off their stress,” added Ward. “They would be under stress anyway, riding herd on these kids under these unusual circumstances. But on top of that, they have all the anxieties of any evacuees — caring for their families, worrying about their homes, trying to figure out how to get repairs made by long distance.
“A big help is time off — a quiet meal in a restaurant, a night at a motel, just taking their own kids to a movie. We can give them the time, but the money for a meal or motel is a luxury they just can’t afford under the circumstances.”
Some generous donors have provided gift cards for restaurants or movies or rooms, and they went pretty quickly. More would go a long way toward helping the helpers cope with the stresses of life in camp.
“There are a lot of heartbreaking stories out of Hurricane Ike,” Spiller concluded, “but this one is just crushing. Many of these children were victims before the hurricane ever formed, and the pressures on the staff trying to care for them under these conditions is almost unimaginable.
“If there ever was a situation where we and our Blanco County neighbors can make a real, visible difference for people — right on our doorstep — who need a helping hand, this is it.”
The Johnson City First United Methodist Church will continue accepting donations for the campers and making deliveries to the camp. Donations can be dropped off at the church or taken directly to the camp at Wimberley.