The October 2017 fires dramatically affected all of us, particularly our children. Children need safe spaces and age-appropriate ways to process their experience of the disaster, so that they can continue to grow and thrive.
Camp Noah helps them do just that. Camp Noah is a nationally acclaimed, 20-year-old preparedness and resiliency program for children, hosted across the U.S. in communities that have been impacted by disaster and trauma. One week of Camp Noah was held for 40 campers at First United Methodist of Santa Rosa’s Stony Point campus in late July, staffed by volunteers from six local churches and five mental health professionals from California Hope. The Monday-Friday day camp program, which is offered free to participants and includes breakfast, lunch and snacks, was so successful that organizers hope to offer it again next spring and summer.
Engaging the ancient story of Noah and the Ark, the children (many of whom were Coffey Park survivors, referred to the program through social service agencies, teachers, or family members) processed their own “storm story,” and found empowering ways to prepare for the next time a disaster strikes. In this safe and supportive setting, children were encouraged to face their fears, grieve their losses, and identify and share their unique gifts and talents. Those who needed special attention found solace and a listening ear in “the quiet room” staffed by a professional counselor.
“The transformation we witnessed was amazing,” says Pastor Laurie McHugh, who led music for the camp. “On the first day, many children were reluctant to participate, and by day three, they were fully engaged. It was really wonderful to see them feeling free to just act like kids.”
The United Methodist Church, ROC (Rebuilding Our Community) Sonoma, and Lutheran Social Services of Northern California, who partnered to bring Camp Noah to Sonoma and Mendocino County this summer, hope to obtain the funding needed to bring the program back to the area on a regular basis, since we are likely to experience other disasters sooner or later, and the need continues. Training local volunteers, rather than bringing in a team from another part of the country, is part of that capacity-building strategy.
If you have or know a child who would be interested in attending a week of Camp Noah over spring break or next summer (dates and location TBA), if you are interested in volunteering, please contact: Elizabeth Walton at 707-545-3863 or firstname.lastname@example.org.