In October 2020, the Springfield Lakes Community was turned upside down when hail stones as big as cricket balls smashed South-East Queensland, damaging thousands of homes. Natural disasters come out of nowhere, wreaking devastation in their path. The hailstorm left cars written off, roofs collapsed, houses unliveable, forcing many families to move out of their homes for months.
The impact was significant on the children of Springfield Lakes. Many had been out celebrating Halloween trick or treating when the storm hit and they were terrified, as were their parents who rushed to collect them.
Further storms a few weeks later compounded their trepidation. Ashleigh, a teacher at Springfield Lakes School recalls having lots of conversations with the children about when another storm would come, with regular checking of the Bureau of Meteorology website to reassure the primary school kids that they were ok.
Ramifications of the storm and the extensive damage to houses in the community meant that around 100 families were displaced, and left Springfield Lakes Primary School when their families moved away to find safe housing, and many others impacted by the devastation. Students and teachers were left reeling.
The school approached The Mackillop Institute and requested the Stormbirds natural disaster program, resulting in two of their guidance officers being trained. This funding was generously provided by the Waratah Education Foundation. Gabrielle and Judy were then able to start implementing the group and offering support to their students. As trained counsellors and teachers, they have seen firsthand the difference the program makes, particularly with its message that the journey to healing takes time. The need to run Stormbirds was so great, that Youii insurance came on board and sponsored a teacher on staff, Ashleigh, to run five more groups throughout the school in term three.
Stormbirds has a clear framework and a strong message that supported the children in their recovery.
As one child described:
“Knowing you can’t do anything about the storms, they are like the seasons, but we have strategies around it when we are feeling anxious, it’s part of our life and we have to accept it”.
Parents, trying to deal with the practical aspects of disaster recovery, were grateful for a program that supported their children in group environments, a space where the children felt safe to talk about how they felt and what worried them. A by-product of this engagement – Ashleigh, Gabrielle and Judy were able to gauge how parents were feeling and how their families were managing, providing them an opportunity to consider further options for support.
For the children, Stormbirds gave them coping strategies, and recognition that it was okay to feel sad and worried. The trained Companions noticed that each child had a different experience and reason for feeling sad, worried, or upset – the mayhem of the storm, not being able to live at home or being late to school because they now had to catch two school buses or because they were worried about their parents. Recognising this, the trained Companions embedded in the school, were able to adapt the program to meet the needs of the children and families in the school community.
The trained Stormbirds Companions have seen the transformation the program has made for the young children at their school. They hope that, as Halloween approaches, the children’s fear of wild weather and storms will be supported
A year on, and the Springfield Lakes Primary School is readying itself for a celebration of the community spirit. Trampolines, jumping castles, a sausage sizzle and therapy dogs will all be part of the mix - a reminder that coming together is fun and the community is rising from the havoc of the past year. The Stormbirds have returned.