“I think we’re at a crossroads right now, whether people want to acknowledge it or not … that storm, that perfect storm can go either way—it can become a positive, with exactly what we need. Or it can go the other way. A total tragedy, where nobody survives.”
People use that phrase in both ways—the perfect storm. Positively, it’s an ideal convergence, every factor working in concert to a surprising yet critical advantage. More often, it skews negative, describing disastrous results from one powerful confluence of uncontrollable forces. You may even think of the true-story-turned-book-turned-movie, where every crisis, every chapter, every scene unfolded from a different and ever-changing perspective—the captains, the crews, the first responders, the meteorologists, the families left behind. And that resonated with Evangeline DeVol.
“They argued, and got mad, everyone thought they knew what they were doing, everyone had their own bias,” she explains. “There’s an analogy in each of those scenes for what the plight of the children in this country looks like right now. The child population is suffering, COVID made sure of that. Those of us in the trenches know that it’s bad—we see it. So we need to make people aware of it, then everybody can do something about it.” Thus where Children of the Perfect Storm was born.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ve jumped into the middle of this story, this storm, when there’s so much more that came before it. I met Van in November of 2018. I sat at her table, in her home, expecting to learn a few facts about NEST Community Learning Center—a nonprofit that was bringing ground-breaking educational support services to Loveland kids in need, literally to their front doors. As founder and executive director, she’d forged this program from the wheels up, shining a bright, much-needed light on children living at or below the poverty line. Just three years in, NEST had already changed lives, changed futures—no hype, no hyperbole—bringing help and hope to kids and families formerly without either. Mission accomplished, right? Awards won, method proven, success tracked, community bettered, children saved. And, scene.
I walked away from Van’s house that day a wholly different person. As do many who meet her. Van has a way of not just inspiring, but moving you to do more, to be more. To give of yourself in all the ways that truly make a difference to others. It’s an amazing thing, to be a small part of that kind of sea change, especially in my own community. But NEST was just the proving ground. Van called it training for what was about to come. And what came next was COVID.
“Think of a time in your life as a child that you remember as negative. We all have something, a time when we were frightened or confused or alone. Certain things in life stick with you, that’s what trauma does,” Van explains. “COVID was trauma for so many children, especially our at-risk, low-income kids—school was their one safe place. And then it was gone—that interaction, that safe piece, that happy piece—without any warning.”
They struggled academically, with no one to help, no one to push them to try, no experiential growth, no connection or accountability. Some children had to focus on caring for siblings instead of school. Some struggle still to read because of underdeveloped eye muscles—everything was on-screen. And while the official public health emergency is over, the pandemic left an even bigger mark on an already imperfect educational system.
“We’re actually worse off than we were prior to the pandemic, and everyone says, ‘well, we need to get back to normal.’ Really??” she laughs, but it’s laced with frustration more than humor. “The only thing that’s going to change the trajectory for these kids, for their lives, is education. Because that leads to a job. And a job lets you break the cycle of generational poverty. A job gives you options. A job allows you to take care of yourself.”
Many of these kids—kids all over the country, not just in Loveland—are victims of that storm, are still in the storm. And that brings us back to Children of the Perfect Storm. Which is what, exactly, I’m sure you’re asking. A program? A plan? A podcast? Yes, to all three, and yet so very much more.
“It’s a voice,” Van smiles. I can feel her excitement about this. It’s tangible. It’s contagious. “It’s an effort to recognize and then do something about the state our children are in—especially children in poverty—that’s getting worse and worse. How do we become a concise, loud voice so people cannot ignore what has happened to these kids?
"This is how. It starts here, first as a podcast series—this dialogue and discussion. Then it becomes a go-to collection of resources, an online hub, a gathering of groups who already have expertise and assets to offer but need a bigger, better platform from which to broadcast and share them. Then it becomes a brand. Then a force of change that can’t be ignored.
“I want to highlight all the people who put themselves on the line every day for these kids, who individually have a great voice—but it’s not loud enough. If we all come together with one voice, then people will know who we are. If we’re one big voice, we can help each other. I want this voice to be so loud, that if you’re one of those struggling kids or families, you’ll have a resource to turn to. It’s about access—there’s good stuff out there, just no easy access to it.” Yet.
So, this is where we start—the podcasts. The first three episodes of Children of the Perfect Storm are out, with nine more to follow, each diving a bit deeper into the possibilities for everyone to do something, for everyone to play a part.
No surprise, Van had some help navigating this uncharted territory: Nick Winnenberg, Alex Winnenberg and Laura Calhoun. “I have a team!” she laughs. “Laura’s job is to hold on and if I fly too high, she’ll say, ‘OK, I like where you’re going, but whoa, whoa.’ She’s my partner and podcast cohost. Nick is in the middle going ‘fly, fly … but come this way!’ Nick’s done for me what I do for my kids—he looked at me and said, ‘I believe in this woman, I know she can do this.’ They all want to be a part of this—so here we go.”
Part of Van enjoys that this stage is a bit unstructured—that this new-born movement has room to morph and grow. “There’s a child right now somewhere, in a struggling economic situation who needs this. The needs will never end, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try.” Whether that means volunteering time, donating funds, connecting people, we all have something to contribute.
“Everyone’s got to come to the table and say, ‘I’m willing to be part of something that’s bigger than I am.’ If the story isn’t told, then we leave children who are hurting,” she says. “This is the way to change things.”
“Because of my faith, the Lord doesn’t allow anything to touch my life that doesn’t have a purpose—I believe that with all my heart. So many things I went through and didn’t understand ... now I do. I understand why these kids feel frightened, what it’s like to be abandoned, to feel like nobody sees you, or your voice doesn’t matter. Every child needs to be seen and every child needs to be heard. How hard is that?”
This is how we turn the storm, stem the tide. We flip the script and help these children write their own perfect story.
“I have a huge faith in people,” Van finishes softly, yet full of conviction. “If they really know how bad this is, they’ll do something.” Invitation accepted.
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“We’re just trying to give every kid the tools and support they need to have a fighting chance, so they can be whatever they’re supposed to be.”