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Camp Noah volunteers train to help kids cope with trauma

April 23, 2006|By TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN

The rains came down, and the floods came up.

For thousands of Southern children, that memorable line from the Bible school song was all too real last year as Hurricane Katrina crashed through their homes, displacing many.

Nine months later, the storm still batters those whose lives were upended along with the trees and power lines - including children traumatized by events they might not quite understand.

Enter Camp Noah.

Sponsored by Lutheran Social Services and Lutheran Disaster Response, Camp Noah is a weeklong, faith-based day camp for elementary-aged children who have experienced disaster. On Saturday, St. Mark Lutheran Church hosted training sessions for more than 75 volunteers from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia who will travel to Mississippi and Louisiana this summer to conduct camps for young Katrina victims.

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Volunteers include staff members from Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Each camp will be run by 15 to 20 adult volunteers and will serve up to 50 children.

Using Bible stories - particularly the story of Noah and the flood - and recreational activities, Camp Noah is designed to help children cope with their experiences while strengthening their faith.

Through role-playing and skits, trainers gave the volunteers a taste of what they could expect from the children they will meet this summer. A day at Camp Noah would include prayer, worship and Bible stories, but also opportunities for the children to talk about their experiences.

One option was to let the children draw pictures of a "safe" place.

"Never ask the question, 'What is that?'" admonished the Rev. Beverly Wallace, assistant to the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church's southeastern synod. "Say, 'Tell me about your picture.' Your purpose is to get them talking."

Trainers got the volunteers thinking like children during role-playing exercises based on camp activities. One volunteer talked about what it might have been like to lose the family puppy in the storm. Another talked about feeling alone and frightened as the floodwaters rose.

And as is often the case with children, the volunteers frequently dissolved with laughter as they pursued their adolescent personas.

"My guess is that you're gonna have a whole lot of fun even before you get to the children," Wallace observed.

The training left nothing to chance; volunteers even practiced the "Bunny Hop" so they'd be ready to lead energetic children through the dance. After watching them bounce through their paces for a while, the Rev. Sandy Kessinger of the Southwestern Pennsylvania synod warned, "I don't care what week you're going, you must start your gym classes now."

Camp Noah represents the second phase of the denomination's relief efforts for Katrina victims, Kessinger said. The first was the initial disaster response last fall, right after the hurricane hit.

Now, she said, "We're going back to help the children cope."

Organizers hope to take 45 Camp Noah volunteers from her synod alone, and 125 altogether from the mid-Atlantic region.

"The need is still there," she said, and as the camps will be conducted during this year's hurricane season, "We're not sure what's gonna happen this year."

And she praised the hospitality St. Mark's offered organizers and volunteers as they trained Saturday.

"We love Hagerstown," she said.

For more information on Camp Noah or to contribute, call 1-800-987-0061 or go to www.campnoah.org.

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