Children reach out to traumatized peers through ‘buddy bags’
RONAN – Children can experience scary stuff that goes way beyond visions of monsters under their beds. These scary things often require police involvement.
“Usually when we are involved it’s because of drug activity or violence, and sometimes children are involved,” said Confederated Salish and Kootenai Police Captain Louis J. Fiddler.
Five girls with the Flathead Reservation 4-H group teamed up with tribal police officers to help children face the trauma of being removed from their homes. Those girls include Alex Loughlin, 12; Alyssa Mock, 11; Autumn Chee, 11; Taylor Jackson, 12; and Justice Quequesah, 11.
“What we did was to make Buddy Bags,” Alex said. “We thought they would be comforting to the kids and help them feel like people care about them.”
The girls placed several toys into 12 handmade fleece bags. Police officers store those bags in the trunks of their patrol cars.
“I plan to present each officer with a bag,” Captain Fiddler said. “While we are waiting for Child Protective Services, we can give a child a Buddy Bag.”
Bubbles are one of the items in the bags.
“When a child is emotional we want them to breathe,” said Brenda Richey, 4-H leader. “With the bubbles, they can take a breath. It’s a release of emotion.”
Richey said a mentoring grant paid for the project. She explained that she stepped back from the project and let the girls take charge.
“Someone has instilled in these girls kindness and compassion,” she said. “It was amazing to watch the girls take off with this. I’m really proud of them. They have given their hearts to the community.”
The girls needed to learn sewing skills before they put the bags together. Volunteer Geri Hall brought her sewing machine to the club and worked with the girls.
“Each (girl) excelled at sewing,” she said.
At the Boys and Girls Club on Friday, the girls each gave a speech in front of a packed room before they presented the bags to the officers.
“I was really nervous giving the speech,” Justice said. “We did this to help the kids. It’s a group effort. We put little (toy) buddies inside the bags to comfort the kids.”
Police officer T.J. Haynes said it’s never easy to remove a child from a home. As a foster parent, Haynes has helped many children work through trauma.
“I take the kids out to have fun: fishing and hunting,” he said. “When they come into your house, they are traumatized. And then, they are traumatized again when they are moved. It’s tough for them and it isn’t their fault. I try to make life fun for them.”
Haynes became a foster parent 18 years ago when his wife, a teacher, suggested taking in a couple students needing a home. Haynes said they’ve taken in about 100 kids over the years.
“My wife stays home with the kids,” he said. “Right now, we have nine at home. There are a lot of kids needing homes and not enough foster parents. If I had a bigger house, I’d take more.”
Tribal Councilmember Patty Stevens noted that Haynes is the Police Officer of the Year for Montana.
“He is a really good guy,” she said.
Stevens explained to the girls that their project was important enough to pull her away from a meeting with Governor Steve Bullock.
“I think it’s really neat this idea you came up with,” she said to the girls. “The greatest thing you can do for your community is community service.”
Richey thanked the officers for attending the event.
“I hope it takes a long time to run out,” she said of the bags adding that the club plans to make more if needed.