New Centre YMCA program helps comfort children in traumatic situations

PHOTO PROVIDED BY MEL CURTIS Each buddy pack includes a variety of comforting items, including a coloring book, crayons, age-appropriate book to read, fleece blanket, and a small, cuddly stuffed animal. Donations are welcome, whether they be monetary or items for the packs, including brand new, Beanie Baby-sized stuffed toys and specific titles of age-appropriate books.

PHILIPSBURG — The YMCA of Centre County is helping to bring comfort to scared children who have just experienced trauma.

Last month, the Moshannon Valley branch of the YMCA partnered with the local police departments, local emergency medical services and the Walmart Foundation to create this comforting new program called Buddy Packs. The Buddy Packs are pre-assembled bags, which each contain an age-appropriate book, coloring book, crayons, fleece blanket, and a small stuffed animal. First responders can give these bags to children who are involved in or a witness to a stressful event, such as a car accident or domestic disturbance, to be of comfort to them not only during the event but also in the days following.

“I personally was involved with the EMS services for 20 years and I witnessed things that I will remember all my life,” said Moshannon Valley YMCA Branch Director Mel Curtis. “In a traumatic situation, everything moves so quickly and young children are scared by what they are witnessing. Usually these children don’t have someone there that can ease the situation for them.”

According to Curtis, the YMCA of Centre County has learned a lot about the communities it serves and the children in those communities through its Weekend Food Backpack program, and one of the board members is a paramedic, so he immediately saw the impact the Buddy Pack program would have on children.

And the program has had quite the impact in the short period of time since it started.

One day, the Moshannon Valley EMS was dispatched to a situation that involved a young girl who was in need of medical treatment. Curtis said the girl had been scared and confused about having to go in the ambulance.

“While transporting the girl, the medic gave her a Buddy Pack and he said that the look on her face was priceless,” Curtis said. “She was excited, and when they got her to the hospital, she showed every person that was treating her everything that was in the Buddy Pack.”

To help get the program off the ground, the YMCA has received financial support from the Walmart Foundation. Curtis said the foundation has given his branch $1,500 to start the program. Those funds covered the first 100 packs, and he is hoping to receive funding in the form of personal or corporate donations.

So far, the local departments participating in the program besides the Moshannon Valley EMS are Bellefonte EMS, Centre LifeLink EMS, Mount Nittany Hospital paramedic response team, Mount Nittany Emergency Department, Ferguson Township Police Department, and Patton Township Police Department. During the first year of the program, the YMCA will be talking with additional police departments and school districts, Curtis said. The reason to get the school districts involved is that children often receive news of traumatic situations while they are in school or they are still seeking support when they come back to school after such situations.

It is Curtis’ hope that the program expands to every school, every EMS and every police department in the county.

“A large amount of young children today face many obstacles and don’t have a strong support system,” he said. “None of us know what goes on in a young child’s life when they face a traumatic situation, their entire life can change in an instance and if we are able to make them somewhat comfortable in any way we have succeeded. Young children remember that you helped them and in their own way will always be thankful.”

Donations to the program are welcome, whether they be monetary or items for the packs. Items requested for the packs include brand new, Beanie Baby-sized stuffed toys and specific titles of books that have been selected for the program based on age and situation, which include:

r Sam & Dave Dig a Hole – by Mac Barnett

r Wilfred – by Ryan Higgins

r Pete the Cat: I love My White Shoes – by Eric Litwin

r Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion – by Mo Willems

r Let’s Go for a Drive! — by Mo Willems

r My New Friend Is So Fun! – by Mo Willems

r A Friend Like You – by Tanja Askani

r Chicka Chicka Boom Boom – Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault

Other books appropriate for up to age 12.

Books can be dropped off at the member service desk at the Moshannon Valley YMCA, which is located at 113 N. 14th St. in Philipsburg. Checks, made payable to YMCA of Centre County and marked as “Buddy Pack Donation,” can be dropped off or mailed to Moshannon Valley YMCA at P.O. Box 426, Philipsburg, PA 16866.