Storey Tells Her Story of Becoming a Child Life Specialist
Every storyteller knows the five basic elements of a good story: characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. But there is one more imperative element to storytelling that often goes unspoken — an author. Heather Storey, a 2010 Grace alumna, cannot share her story without mentioning The Author who has so creatively crafted the narrative in which her greatest passion meets some of the world’s deepest griefs.
Chapter 1: A Passion For Kids
Storey always knew that she wanted to work with children.
“I find children so amazing,” said Storey. “I believe they are the future on this side of heaven, and I’ve always wanted a career that would encourage and empower children who are going through hard times.”
And as many stories go, she was inspired to make a difference because of her own life experiences. “My childhood wasn’t easy, but many adults poured into me, and I wanted to be that for someone else,” she explained.
As a result, studying education at Grace College, a small liberal arts college that would encourage and challenge her in her relationship with Jesus, seemed to be a clear choice. Thankfully, Grace’s School of Education places students in the classroom during their first semester — that’s all it took for Storey to realize that teaching wasn’t for her.
“I wanted to work with children one-on-one,” said Storey. “I realized that’s just not possible as a classroom teacher,” she said.
Without a major, and back at square one, Storey consulted her Resident Director at the time. She shared about her struggle in the classroom, her interest in the medical field, and most importantly, her passion to work closely with children. The RD’s ears perked up as she quickly realized that child life would be an ideal field for Storey. She explained that child life specialists work with families and children in hospitals to help them cope with the challenges that come with hospitalization, illness, and disability. Storey had never heard of child life, but what her RD was describing sounded like a match.
In lieu of that conversation, Storey decided to go the behavioral science route and to major in psychology and sociology. And the summer before her senior year, she went to Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital to observe a child life specialist in action. Over the course of those months, Storey recalls, “God made it so apparent that this was my future,” she said.
Chapter 2: A Divine Meeting at 30,000 Feet
After a short stint at an inpatient psychology facility post graduation, Storey enrolled in a child life specialist college for a master’s degree in child-life, healthcare administration and family collaboration at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Throughout her schooling, Storey worked at John Hopkins as a child life assistant. She always figured that would be the hospital where she would end up.
In her last semester of graduate school, Storey took a spring break trip to Kenya, Africa. At that time, she was in the thick of applying for internships, a decision that felt quite weighty. But Storey was believing that God would pave the way and reveal to her where she should go.
During her time in Africa, Storey received notification that she had been accepted to intern at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital — ranked the third best children’s hospital in the nation and the TOP hospital in the nation for child life. Storey was overjoyed at the opportunity, but she couldn’t help but wonder how she would afford to pick up and move to a new city for an unpaid internship.
She boarded the plane to return from Kenya (which first had a layover in Amsterdam) and sat next to a friendly man who started drumming up a conversation. When asked about work, Storey responded, explaining the niche field of child life and sharing about her internship opportunity in Cincinnati. The man looked at her with big, knowing eyes. Oddly enough, his wife was a child life specialist, too. And lo and behold — she had worked for several years at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
Storey was shocked.
Although the man and his wife no longer lived in Cincinnati, he went on to tell Storey about his amazing church family in Cincinnati and even connected her with a family that “might have a place for her to stay.” That family would become Storey’s host family later that year.
“It was the easiest decision to ever make,” said Storey about moving to Cincinnati. “There was no way that God wasn’t in it all,” she said.
Chapter 3: Dream Job-Turned-Mission Field
Storey never thought that Ohio would be a destination, but it didn’t take her long to fall in love with the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) in Cincinnati. While she was there, a job opened up, and she’s remained there ever since.
“It’s not just my dream job, but also my mission field,” said Storey. “I could never be in this environment without hope in Jesus and hope beyond this life,” she said.
Working in the intensive care unit means Storey is around a lot of death.
“The patients I work for are the sickest of the sick,” she explained. “My clients, their families, and my coworkers are all asking the big, hard questions about life and death. It’s a privilege to get to be in these really holy and intimate moments with people. And all I can do is pray that I am a light and pray for the Holy Spirit to intercede,” Storey said.
But Storey explained that not all moments in the hospital are so dark; there are bright moments too.
“I love watching a child who is at first very scared to be in the hospital become empowered and to come up with a coping plan,” said Storey who is often in the operating rooms with the child, providing a distraction during the surgery. “I am inspired by the kids I serve each and every day — to watch how courageous they are and watch them take charge of what’s going on with their body and their treatment,” she said.
Storey’s passion for the work that she does in the hospital is evident. But a few years into her career, Storey was moved to do something outside of the hospital walls in response to the earthquake in Haiti.
“Grace always had a cross-cultural emphasis,” recalled Storey. “When I heard about the earthquake, I felt challenged to consider the least of these. Grace put that passion in me.”
The result? Storey and a few of her colleagues got together and started brainstorming how they could help. Not long after, Child Life Disaster Relief (CLDR), a nonprofit organization that develops a global network to ensure that children have the tools and support they need in the face of disaster and crisis, was born.
“If a child’s home is on fire or if their neighborhood is flooding, CLDR sets up a safe space for kids to be dropped off for post-traumatic stress processing,” explained Storey.
Since its inception in 2016, the ministry has helped to meet a large need both domestically and around the world. Because Storey and her child life specialist colleagues said “yes” to acting on their compassion, countless children have received the post-traumatic stress processing they need.
Storey is no longer leading the effort, but she continues to volunteer with CLDR and support their mission wholeheartedly.
Chapter 4: Finding Her Way Back to Grace
Using a degree to make an eternal impact in a secular setting is something Storey learned at Grace.
“Grace taught me how to have a Biblical perspective in a workplace where that is not the priority. My degree in psychology and my classes with Edgington and Roberts, really all of my classes at Grace, equipped me to incorporate the truth of the gospel into what the world is telling us,” said Storey.
And now, Storey will be equipping the next generation of Grace students to do the same.
When Dr. Kevin Roberts began working with student Bethany Nesbitt, an aspiring child life specialist, to create a child life concentration for the major in psychology — he knew exactly who to call about teaching some courses. “Heather was a bright student while she was at Grace, and she has accomplished so much in her ten years as a postgraduate. She was an obvious choice in my mind,” said Roberts.
Storey was immediately thrilled at the idea of teaching at her alma mater. She emailed back and forth with Nesbitt, who was dreaming about what the program might look like before she unexpectedly passed away. “Bethany reminded me of myself at her age,” said Storey. “That was pretty inspiring to me.”
Storey will teach the first course for those pursuing the Bethany Nesbitt Child Life Specialist Concentration this summer, named to honor Bethany’s legacy and her vital role in bringing the new degree to fruition.
Storey’s story has come full circle, and she recognizes the Author’s intentionality on every page. “I always reflect back and am amazed at how He’s made things work,” she said.
And to think, there is so much left of the story that she has yet to read!
Are you interested in being an advocate for children in hospitals as a child life specialist?
Learn more about Grace’s major in psychology and its new child life concentration.