An estimated 150 kids who were impacted by the May tornado recently participated in a week-long day camp designed to help them recover from it.
Camp Noah is a national program of the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota specifically designed for children in grades one through six who have been impacted by disaster. Kids take part in such activities as playing games, watching puppet shows, singing, and doing arts and crafts, as well as participating in small discussion groups.
Studies have shown that if children are helped to cope with the stress of dealing with the aftermath of the storm, such trauma-related behaviors as fear, sadness and nightmares, fighting or worrying about the weather may subside, says a Camp Noah informational pamphlet.
Each child also can write about what happened to him or her and post their work on a “Wall of Remembrance.” The kids “talked about what they lost in the storm,” explains Camp Noah National Volunteer Team Director Kim Rathjen.
“We know that they are still hurting,” she adds. “But they are finding comfort here, and finding a safe environment here to voice those concerns. There is a therapist on-site who is helping kids who are really struggling.”
Jordan New Life Community Church, St. Olaf Lutheran Church and Salem Lutheran Church were the three Northside Camp Noah locations last week.
Sue Quist, the St. Olaf coordinator who also lives in North Minneapolis, points out, “I know the toll the tornado has taken on our community and on individuals. [The camp children] get to talk about things like their fears, hopes and dreams. It’s about resiliency.”
The three Camp Noah camps were funded by grants and “other resources,” says Lutheran Social Services Disaster Services Director Nancy Beers. Rathjen added that food donations were received from several area churches to serve the campers breakfast and lunch every day.
Although the majority of the volunteer staff was White, “We do have a group of [Black] teenagers to be support staff,” says Rathjen. Dawn Dresser, the camp program director, adds that it was important to have staff working with campers who look like them.
“We are blessed that we got four African Americans that are part of the staff,” Dresser says. “We try to be sensitive to the cultural aspect of it.”
Nonetheless, she notes that Camp Noah typically has staff members who are not from the storm-impacted area. “We usually recruit staff from outside the affected area because kids talk about how the tornado affected them, and in many cases, if you are from the area you also have been affected.
“This is really for the kids,” Dresser says. “It gives them the opportunity to talk to somebody who hasn’t heard their story before. We’re here to listen to them speak and to help them work their way through it.”
Kameisha Flowers and Destiny Cofield were two of the Blacks who worked with the campers at St. Olaf. “I think they like the program a lot,” Flowers observes.
“It’s fun,” Cofield agrees, “but as far as the disaster, they are still kids and they really can’t answer everything you want to ask.”
Dresser says the camp helps parents as well: “This gives the parents a way to get a respite from the kids asking questions. They are in the middle of trying to get things back together.”
Parents were given pre-and-post camp evaluations, says Rathjen. “We ask the parents to evaluate how their children were doing before and after the camp, and if they want additional help, they can be directed to where help can be available.”
Says Redeemer Lutheran Pastor Rev. Kelly Chatmon — his church helped coordinate the Camp Noah site at Jordan New Life — the elderly residents who also were impacted by the May storm should get special attention no less than the children, since they are often struggling to recover from the tornado disaster, too.
“That is another segment out there that is neglected,” he concludes.