Hometown Hero: Katie Nees

After a happy childhood as a pastor’s daughter, a traumatic experience at age seventeen changed the trajectory of Katie Nees’ life. She decided to study psychology to learn to help children cope with traumatic events in their own lives.

In college, while her friends were figuring out what they wanted to do, she was moving toward her goal at full speed. That led her to her current profession as a Child Life Specialist in the emergency room at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Katie says, “ My profession is focused on helping kids cope in the midst of trials and struggles, trauma, diagnoses, and grief. My focus is on the patients, but sometimes I work with the siblings and the parents to help them know how to help their kids in the long run to mitigate stress and trauma. We maximize coping in those critical and very vulnerable moments.”

Katie began conceptualizing a nonprofit relief company after the Haiti earthquake. She says, “After the earthquake I wanted to go to use my skills with kids who were clearly in need. But I didn’t want to go with another organization where I would hammer nails and use my skills on the side. I started researching to see who was doing this work. I realized that there was a huge need and not a lot of well- organized professional service organizations in the aftermath of natural disasters.”

She and her business partner eventually created Child Life Disaster Relief, where she serves as Director.

When asked how they work with the children, Katie says, “We deploy child life specialists after natural or manmade disasters to work with the children who are impacted. We use coping interventions in the immediate aftermath. We give the children an opportunity to play through and talk through their experiences. The trauma isn’t just the event itself but also the chaos and changes big and small that happen because of the event over the next days, weeks and months. We help them process what they’ve seen, what they’ve heard—the emotions that are new to them: deep joy and relief and sadness and grief all at once.”

She continues, “God has been a part from the beginning. Early on, before we became a nonprofit, I did several presentations at conferences about the needs and how we could meet them. I spent time on my knees in prayer before each presentation wanting to build the foundation on the rock that He is instead of the sand of myself. The success or the failure was in His hands. Each of those presentations had an incredible response. People were energized. People were lined up outside the room disrupting the next presentations. It was beyond what I anticipated. That’s when I started to realize that this could propel itself whether I did it or not because the needs are obvious and the enthusiasm was tangible.”

One of the most surprising outcomes was the effect that the ministry has had on the workers themselves. Katie says, “He has given me opportunities to care for the people I deploy. We are unapologetically faith based, very directly pointing to Him. Those moments that they are deployed are vulnerable for them, too, and often bring up their own struggles and fears. It has been incredible to have opportunities to minister to them in deep ways. In critical moments, when things don’t make sense, I tie it back to a trust in Him. This has been something I did not anticipate with this work and yet some of the most rewarding.”