Surviving the Trauma of the Woolsey Fire

Malibu Boys & Girls Club Wellness Center Director Randi Goodman, LMFT, (second from left) with employees and volunteers of the center

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the director of the wellness center at the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu is “urging anyone affected by the Malibu fire not to wait until the last minute to get help.” 

Director Randi Goodman, LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist), has been with the center nearly a year. The licensed mental health facility was started in 2017 with a contract through the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. It’s the sole provider of mental health and wellness services to all Malibu public school children in grades K-12 and their families. Many are dealing with multiple stressors including evacuating, losing their homes and possessions, being displaced, mudslides, keeping up with school and even applying for college. But even before the fire, according to Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Kasey Earnest, “We saw an intense need with all the challenges kids go through with stress and anxiety.”

Due to the intense trauma of the Woolsey Fire, the wellness center expanded its mission and stepped in to provide counseling services for the entire Malibu community in addition to its regular SMMUSD clientele. Its clinicians provided crisis counseling on the spot for anyone who needed it. More than 100 families and individuals sought help during the first six weeks after the fire.

Now back to servicing 1,700 families in the school district, the center is helping students and families that may be dealing with post-traumatic stress. 

“The stress of the fire has amplified whatever challenges some children were already facing. The fire was significant. Now they’ve lost their homes, they’re not at school or their friends have had to leave the community and it’s created a lot of emotion, trauma and feeling of uncertainty,” Earnest explained. “It’s intense. We have seen a significant increase in suicidal ideation. I’m glad we’re there. 

“While adults may have been able to put context to their situation, it’s not always as simple for an elementary school student, a middle school student or even some in high school,” she said.

The services provided at the wellness center located at the Boys & Girls Club are free of charge. There’s a back entrance for anyone who may feel embarrassed entering. Elementary school children are seen at their respective schools. Goodman explained play therapy and art therapy help the youngest children without rich language skills to express their feelings, and added, “Now we’re getting a lot of calls from moms and dads who want to come in and talk about their families and how they can keep it all together.” 

The wellness center is staffed by nearly a dozen interns who are in the process of getting their master’s degrees and marriage and family therapy licenses. They come from Pepperdine, Cal Lutheran and other area universities. 

The director said older kids seem to be hit hard by the fire.

“We have some heavy cases because we have teenagers,” Goodman said. “Fire stress has manifested into anything from stomach aches to kids who just don’t want to go to school anymore. A lot has changed. There’s a lot of fear about what could happen in Malibu.” Through talk therapy, playing board games or even poetry and art for adults, the wellness center staffers are there to help. 

“Adults or children—whatever the client needs, we sort of show up and allow that to happen and unwind here,” Goodman explained.

 “We’re here for you. We don’t want you to feel uncomfortable or that this is an embarrassing thing,” the director continued. “I have parents calling now, after six months, to get their kids in. Summer’s coming. We welcome ideas. If people see something in school—an issue with bullying, anger or drugs—they can come here and we can figure out a program. There’s lots of ways to grow.”

The center will be open this summer. 

Donations can be made through the Boys & Girls Club website. 

“We can use supplies and money to keep this going,” Goodman said. “It’s an amazing service for families because they don’t have to leave Malibu to get counseling.” 

Contact the club by emailing or calling 310.457.1400.

If you have questions about the club’s emergency relief fund, email or call 424.388.9862.