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National and local organizations provide safe spaces for child evacuees

Bryan+Marshall+%28right%29+and+Jason+Threewit+have+opened+up+Bryan%27s+Bricks+to+children+affected+by+the+Camp+Fire.+Photo+credit%3A+Brian+Luong
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National and local organizations provide safe spaces for child evacuees

Bryan Marshall (right) and Jason Threewit have opened up Bryan's Bricks to children affected by the Camp Fire. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Bryan Marshall (right) and Jason Threewit have opened up Bryan's Bricks to children affected by the Camp Fire. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Bryan Marshall (right) and Jason Threewit have opened up Bryan's Bricks to children affected by the Camp Fire. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Bryan Marshall (right) and Jason Threewit have opened up Bryan's Bricks to children affected by the Camp Fire. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Brian Luong

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Patty Henry had six hours to prepare for her flight from her home in Colorado after receiving a call around 9 a.m. asking if she could be a project manager for the Camp Fire.

“This was the fastest one [disaster] I’ve ever had to move on,” Henry said.

Henry is one of the over 3,000 volunteers with Children Disaster Services (CDS) who travel all around the United States when a crisis occurs. CDS provides children with a safe space to play, while their parents speak to other resources at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Recovery Center. The organization, founded in 1979, has helped over 80,000 children in over 230 incidents according to their website.

CDS volunteers came from Iowa, Ohio and Florida to assist the victims of Camp Fire.

“It’s further traumatizing them [children] to have to sit in line for hours and to hear the tragedy retold and retold and retold in each of the interviews,” Henry said.

The center is designed for children to express themselves with artistic and sensory outlets, such as painting and drawing. They also have the option to play in an active center with basketballs and hoops.

Henry recalls a child pounding on a map of Paradise saying that he was going to fix the town, while another used Play-Doh to create a sculpture of his house in flames.

According to Henry, even though CDS brings their own supplies, they would not run as efficiently without the help of FEMA, Target and other organizations.

FEMA created makeshift table borders to enclose the space at the local assistance center, Target donated $700 to purchase necessary materials for the children and three different organizations donated diapers, after two families with children came to Henry asking if they had any in supply.

“This community has really come together for these kids and for these families,” Henry said.

Although children are reluctant at first, Henry seen their moods change once they get their hands on activities and surround themselves with other children.

“We’ve had them come in where they don’t want to come in and they’re quiet and they’re clingy,” Henry said. “They don’t really want to play. By the time we had them a couple hours, they don’t want to leave.”

Bryan Marshall also decided to help families during the initial days after Camp Fire by providing his store, Bryan’s Bricks, as a safe space for evacuees to bring their children to destress and enjoy Legos.

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Bryan Marshall talks with a customer about pricing on Friday afternoon at his store Bryan's Bricks. Photo credit: Brian Luong

The local Chico store gives LEGO enthusiasts the opportunity to buy, sell and trade.

Marshall said that approximately one third of the people who have visited his store over the last few weeks have been victims of the fire looking for a place for their children to play.

Marshall also offered his store as a space for families following the Oroville Dam disaster.

He credits his past career experience of working with the Butte County Sheriff’s Office as useful practice for his own business and with helping disaster victims.

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Jason Threewit shows off his Lego tattoo at Bryan's Bricks Friday afternoon. Photo credit: Brian Luong

“I’m still dealing with people in emotional settings,” Marshall said. “It has been helpful, the training and experience I have.”

Marshall is also giving free estimates on the prices of Lego collections so that Camp Fire victims can provide them to their insurance companies for reimbursement. Four families have come in so far and he believes more will come in the following weeks.

“We are the area’s foremost authority,” Marshall said. “I’d be willing to sign an affidavit on something that says this is what it’s worth based on my experience and research. I’m willing to do that for them if that means getting some of these sets back to them.”

Jason Threewit, store manager, posted on social media informing families that Bryan’s Bricks was a space for families to come by with no cost.

Threewit stated that the store has been a big part of his life and he was happy to share his passion with so many others who have been affected by the fires.

“It’s really crazy about how fast it happened, exactly what happened and how it affected people, but I’m glad that we’re a place people can come to, especially if they want to rebuild their collection, because Lego is a thing that will be around forever,” Threewit said.

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Jason Threewit of Bryan's Bricks was happy to share his passion for Legos with Camp Fire evacuees the last few weeks. Photo credit: Brian Luong

Henry stressed the importance of local organizations and businesses helping children in times of disasters.

“If they are traumatized as a child and it’s not addressed, it can affect them for their whole life,” Henry said. “We don’t want that to happen, we want to try to minimize that as much as we can.”

Brian Luong can be reached at [email protected] or @brianluongorion on Twitter.

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National and local organizations provide safe spaces for child evacuees