September 21, 2023

Navigating a Childcare Center Through a Natural Disaster

Childcare centers often serve as the heartbeat of their communities. Families rely on their childcare centers to provide their young children with an early childhood education and to keep them safe. When a community falls into crisis due to a natural disaster, families often lean on their Center Director for support.

Last April, Shawnee, Oklahoma, experienced one of the most devastating tornados in the town’s history. Stephanie Wilkinson, Center Director at Creation Kingdom Shawnee and lifelong Oklahoman, knew that the families that attended her center would need help.  

We sat down with Stephanie to discuss how she was able to provide support for her community and act as a calming source in the chaotic aftermath of such a crisis.

Q: Your community experienced a tornado last spring. Can you describe what went through your mind when you realized what was happening?

A: I was thinking about trying to keep my family safe and calm, what my community was about to go through, and the destruction that would happen to our town.

Q: What were your next steps after the tornado passed and your family was safe?

A: My next step was to check for damages at the center, communicate with my families about the condition of the center, and let them know that we were there to help if they needed anything.

Q: What did you find when you assessed the center?

A: I thought it was going to be a lot worse than it was. All around us were trees down, trash everywhere, and random bits of metal and roof shingles from houses that the tornado had hit. We were so lucky to have minimal damage at the center. So many businesses and homes were badly damaged or destroyed.

Q: In a crisis, it can be hard to keep track of everything you need to do. How did you juggle communicating with your families about repairing the center and everything else?

A: I made sure to update our families every day about what was happening at the center, when repairs would be completed and when power would be restored. I kept them updated every step of the way so they knew we were working to reopen as soon as possible.

Q: How did the community come together in the wake of this disaster?

A: Oklahoma always comes together in tough times. It brings my heart joy to see everyone putting aside their lives to help others when in need. When a natural disaster happens, everyone steps up and helps one another. We call it Oklahoma Strong and the Oklahoma Standard. In our town, we call it Shawnee Strong.

Q: Do you have any tips for Center Directors facing a weather disaster?

A: Do your best with communication. Families are in crisis mode, and we are a constant for them. Knowing that we are there for them goes a long way during weather emergencies.