Julie Wende felt helpless from Fort Worth as she watched news reports of the January earthquake that had shattered the San Fernando Valley, her former home.
“I felt isolated here and so out of touch with my friends and wanting so much to be there for them,” she said from her new Texas home.
Wende’s desire to ease her friends’ pain has since translated into an earthquake activity book that has helped thousands of area children cope with their fears.
A couple of days after the earthquake, when Wende finally got through to the home of longtime friends in Sherman Oaks, the couple’s child answered.
“Her little voice was just full of hopelessness. It just really broke me up and I just wanted to put a smile back on her face,” said Wende, 38, who still remembers the terror she felt as a youngster during the Sylmar quake.
The fright in the 7-year-old’s voice prompted Wende, an illustrator, to put together a colorful activity book to help the child deal with the trauma.
“My motivation was really to cheer her up,” she said.
That book drawn for little Shanelle Lambert has now, in its newer, more polished form, found its way into the hands of 150,000 children, many in the San Fernando Valley.
Shanelle’s mother, Tami Lambert, showed the book to colleagues at Healthnet, where she worked at the time.
“Shanelle was so touched by it and I was so touched that Julie took the time to do this,” Lambert said. “Psychologically it was just very thought-provoking. It’s very hard for children to formulate what they’re feeling. Julie’s book helped Shanelle focus in on ‘No, I didn’t like the lights being out and yes, I was scared.’ ”
Lambert decided other children could also learn to address their fears with the book, which includes pages to color, and lines to write “what Shanelle thinks about earthquakes.”
“The next morning I thought, I’ve got to share this book with somebody. This book needs to be shared with just more than my daughter,” Lambert said. “At this point I’m thinking I’ll go to Kinko’s and have some copies made.”
But Healthnet officials were so impressed they contacted Wende and asked her to help produce the book on a larger scale with Healthnet’s supervisor of communications, Melissa Stephan, who wrote the text.
“We looked at the idea and thought it was so cute and worked so well with Shanelle,” said Cindy Keitel, director of wellness for Healthnet.
The company published and distributed the book through the Los Angeles Unified School District and counseling and relief centers.
The book is available in Spanish and English and can be requested by calling (800) 955-6066.