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Giving Comfort to New York City’s Children

United States, October 24, 2001

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The reviews are in: Comfort Kits are a hit.

That is the universal response from the children and families in New York City who have received the Sept. 11 Comfort Kits being distributed by Mercy Corps.

“People are thrilled when they get them,” says Griffen Jack, who heads Mercy Corps’ Comfort for Kids program in New York City. “They keep telling us what a difference these will make in their kids’ lives and how excited they are by the quality and content.”

The Comfort Kits are part of Mercy Corps’ Comfort for Kids program, which was launched in response to the Sept. 11 tragedy. The program is designed to aid families and children in New York City that might otherwise be overlooked by relief, recovery and counseling efforts such as those in refugee, immigrant and low-income communities.

The Comfort Kits have been created to help children feel safe and to express their emotions in ways that promote tolerance and understanding. The kits, which are initially being distributed to 12,500 of the most vulnerable children, include: flashlights, art supplies, books, music, and stuffed animals, as well as a special guide for parents and a copy of Putumayo World Music’s World Playground 2 compilation of kid-friendly songs.

“There are stories about children who watched the World Trade Center towers fall from their classroom windows and who are so traumatized that they haven’t spoken a word since,” Jack says. “While we would like to give a Comfort Kit to every child, we are targeting the most vulnerable kids such as these to begin with.”

Jack says that Mercy Corps has also begun to host informal, community-based information exchange and training programs that promote tolerance, understanding and healing for people who work with children. Each session involves 8-12 participants and is facilitated by a two-person instruction team.

“The response to the training sessions has been fabulous,” Jack says. “We are giving 2-3 a week but the number continues to grow as people and groups recommend them to others.”

Jack says that Mercy Corps has also developed several local partnerships with groups representing the Hispanic, Korean, Chinese and Muslim communities.

Mercy Corps is working with these partners and local officials to plan the distribution of fear, grief and trauma education materials including a 42-page booklet called What Happened to the World to thousands of people - parents, teachers and child care providers - in their communities. The goal is to provide such resources to 200,000 individuals and Jack says that volunteers have offered to translate the materials into Spanish and Cantonese.

The initial phase of the Comfort for Kids program is four months long, but could be extended and broadened depending on the success of its funding campaign. Thus far, Mercy Corps has achieved nearly 40 percent of its funding campaign goal of $1 million.

Mercy Corps’ flagship partners in the Comfort for Kids project are: Bright Horizons Family Solutions; J.P. Morgan Chase & Co; and The Dougy Center, the National Center for Grieving Families and Children.