Camp Noah Helps Kids Weather Life’s Storms

When the roaring fire spread quickly toward Amber Kay’s home, her family did as many did last summer; turn on the news for updates. As the adults listened and talked about nothing but the fire, Kay’s then-5-year-old son took it all in. For this child, the fires are gone, but the fears remain.

First came the Creek Fire that incinerated a corner of the Kay family’s Igo property. Then came the Carr Fire that consumed Kay’s mother’s home, two shops and even her father’s truck, fully loaded with items he’d packed especially for his move to Igo that very day.

The Kay home was spared, mainly because it’s an underground house, but much of the land and the property’s infrastructure was destroyed. Kay, who’s a florist, was unable to work for weeks because she had no refrigeration for her flowers. The family evacuated twice, staying with family in Redding until it was safe to return.

Being safe was one thing. Convincing the family’s little boy that the family was truly safe was another matter.

“It was scary for all of us, but my son is now deathly afraid of fire,” Kay said. “He gets anxiety when he sees even a little bit of smoke.”

Enter Camp Noah, a week-long faith-based day camp held at Grant Elementary School in Redding, designed especially for elementary-school-aged kids like Amber Kay’s son; children who’ve experienced trauma or natural- and human-caused disasters.

According to Katie Swartz, who oversees Camp Noah, about half the children at Redding’s Camp Noah lost homes in the Carr Fire, and about 90 percent were directly impacted by the fire. While the majority of children attending the north state Camp Noah are there to deal with the aftermath of last summer’s fires, some students are there to learn resiliency and coping skills for everything from grief following a loss to a dramatic family trauma.

“I’m happy this camp was available,” said Amber Garland of Redding, who enrolled her son and daughter in Camp Noah. “We weren’t here during the fire, but we’ve been through our own traumas and this is helping the kids deal with them.

Her son, 12-year-old Andres, told about the program. “It’s pretty fun, and I’ve met a lot of people,” he said. “They have a lot of activities, but they also have us in small groups to talk about stuff, and learn to express our feelings.”

The program is free, and can accommodate up to 50 students. Forty-two are currently registered for the Redding camp, which began Monday and ends Friday. Camp Noah is staffed by volunteer teachers, game and craft coordinators and mental health professionals who encourage children to process their own “storm stories”, as well as find empowering ways to prepare for the next time disaster strikes.

Wednesday’s Camp Noah started with breakfast in the cafeteria prepared by volunteers who served muffins, fruit, cheese, cereal and hard-boiled eggs.

Later, the kids would have snack and a hot lunch of “kid-friendly” foods, such as chicken nuggets, pasta, chili dogs and nachos.

After breakfast all the kids headed with the adult volunteers for the main room.

Some kids held blankets or stuffed animals.

In the large group session, the adults led the kids in songs, such as the classic Sunday School tune, “Arky Arky” that tells the story of Noah and his travails with the storm, rain, ark and myriad animals all crammed together on one vessel. Kids were encouraged to get up and dance during the songs.

Some children stood up and danced. Others remained seated on the floor.

… It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies
It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies
Almost drove those animals crazy, crazy, children of the Lord
The sun came out, and dried up the landy, landy
The sun came out, and dried up the landy, landy
Look! There’s the sun, it dried up the landy, landy
Everything was fine and dandy, dandy, children of the Lord
So, rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory
Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory
Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory
Children of the Lord
A large image of Noah adorned one wall, with some of Noah’s “wise words”:
I am somebody special, there’s no one else like me! I like the way I am, this is who I want to be!
When a storm comes, I am not scared. Want to know why? Because I’m prepared!
A short skit was performed by teen and adult volunteers who depicted Noah and his family, as well as their frustrations and fears. Noah’s wife complained about the mess and the monkeys. Noah tried to reassure his family that he knew they were upset because things had changed, and would never be the same. He said changes were hard, and being scared was OK. Learning to be safe was what was most important.
Noah assured his children that it was OK to feel good at times, even when something bad had happened.
One sentiment expressed by one of Noah’s children could be relatable by many of the children at Camp Noah who lost homes in the Carr Fire: “I just want things to be the way they were.”
Camp Noah’s motto is Building Resilience, Restoring Hope, Changing Lives. It is owned and operated on a national basis by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, and is funded through local, regional and national partnerships, grants and fundraising efforts, as well as individual donations.
At Redding’s Camp Noah, each family received a $50 gas card, a gift from the Redding Rancheria to help offset the costs of driving the campers to and from Grant School each day.
Each child received a preparedness pack that included a backpack, fleece blanket, flashlight, whistle, first aid kit, child-sized dust mask, notebook and pen, child-sized work gloves and an emergency information card. The children also received art and craft supplies.

Redding’s Camp Noah is run by volunteers from five Redding churches: St. James Lutheran, United Methodist, Pilgrim Congregational, Trinity Lutheran and the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

A statement at the bottom of a Camp Noah information sheet said that Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota serves all people regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability or age.

Following the large gathering of all the children in the big room during the singing and skit part of the morning, the children were divided into groups by age for the next segment where adult volunteers would give children space and time to share their stories and learn resilience skills.

Camp Noah has a feel of part church camp, part fun day camp, part music camp, and part art camp, all with the goal of helping children deal with traumas that left them scared and confused.

Camp Noah’s philosophy is that disaster changes lives – especially for children. Camp Noah’s mission is to support children so they can process whatever disaster they’ve experienced.

Minnesota-based Camp Noah was founded in 1997 in response to flooding in the Red River Valley in North Dakota and Minnesota. Since then, 325 camps have served more than 15,000 children in 31 states and Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, at Grant Elementary School in Redding, where Camp Noah is being held, the surrounding mountains contain the charred remains of last year’s Carr Fire.

Even so, if you look closely you can see that the hillsides are slowly gaining some green. And Camp Noah’s hope is that the traumatized children will eventually regain the emotional strength to deal not just with fires and disasters, but going forward in life, to handle whatever comes their way.

When a storm comes, I am not scared. Want to know why? Because I’m prepared!
Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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18 Responses

  1. Avatar Bob says:

    This story illustrates the continuing ministry and service of Redding’s churches. They are a blessing to our community.

    • Avatar Linda Cooper says:

      The Grace Baptist Church was probably the first church to open their doors. My husband and I heard this news over the car radio in the parking lot at Shasta College. The college evacuation center was full. The hotels were full. This was our second evacuation. First our home, and next the hotel on Market Street. The church volunteers were so kind. The word wasn’t out much yet, and so the sanctuary (I love that term) with the simple mats on the floor was quiet. I couldn’t sleep, so I observed real angels from the congregation slipping in all night with more blankets, more food to drop off. The next morning, a friend told us that cars were pulling out of the hotel where she was staying, so we rushed over and found a vacancy. Later, we returned to the church with a cash donation that the volunteer had trouble accepting, and the church was filled with a flood of people seeking shelter. Yet, we had that one peaceful night where we were given sanctuary. For me, the true purpose of a church filled my heart. To this day.

      • I’m so glad that the Grace Baptist Church was there for you during the fire, and could bring you comfort. I do believe that’s, as you say, churches’ true purpose.

  2. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    My hat’s off to these volunteers who have seen a need and acted.

  3. Avatar Larry Winter says:

    As one who had attended Catechism as a Catholic in training as a child and just being baffled by all of the characters from the Bible and their super hero powers, I am a testament to how religious training of young kids doesn’t always take. What is prompting me to write is that I’ve recently heard Rep. Louis Gohmert saying that same sex marriage only occurred once before in human history. And that was in the time of Noah, before the flood and we are now living in the time of Noah once again. So BE PREPARED. Noah today signifies the Second Coming.

    What made me smile upon reading this was the quote Doni provides from one young attendee who stated…

    “I just want things to be the way they were.”

    Holy Satan Batman!

    • Well, for many people, Bible stories – like the tale of Noah and the ark – are metaphors and illustrations to offer guidance and wisdom.

      Camp Noah is a faith-based camp. It makes sense to use the story of Noah and the flood and the family’s fear and displacement and frustration, rather than a story of fire. Even the youngest child could make that leap in comparison.

    • Avatar Linda Cooper says:

      My smile moment was from an attendee who said he was learning to “express our feelings.” I wonder about this. Why does expressing our feelings need to be a learned behavior? Hum.

  4. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    My three kids attended the Need Camp. Did it survive the fire?

  5. R.V. Scheide R.V. Scheide says:

    I think there needs to be a Camp Noah for adults after the fires we had last summer, because both my girlfriend and I have a heightened fear that we could get burned out of our home with one stray spark or lightening strike. We’ve really stepped up our fire preparation, and so has our community, Whitmore, but the fear is still there.

    I applaud the Lutherns and other Christian denominations that have become more inclusive of the LGBTQ community. Our at-risk LGBTQ youth need all the friends they can get.

    • Avatar Linda Cooper says:

      R.V. – I’m so delighted that you wrote that! It was my first thought as well, a Camp Noah for adults. About the fear, we have still not replaced our small Weber, and I do love a grilled steak.

      Whitmore is so special. I will always remember a school field trip at Shasta State Park. I offered to help a mother push her daughter in a wheel chair up the steep hill. The mother replied, “no thank you. We’re tough. We are from Whitmore.”

    • R.V., I hear you, and agree about that Camp Noah for grown-ups. I know a Redding guy who recently said he gets nervous just lighting his barbecue.

      And I also agree with you about the Christian denominations that are inclusive of LGBTQ folks. That was exactly what I was thinking when I read the Noah quote at the camp: “I am somebody special, there’s no one else like me! I like the way I am, this is who I want to be!”

  6. Avatar Marjorie Ann Brown says:

    Doni, I spoke to you while you were at Camp Noah on Wednesday. I listed all 5 of the churches involved in Camp Noah. But, in your article your did not mention Trinity Lutheran Churches. I was in charge of coordinating the volunteers for the five days of camp. We had many dedicated and giving volunteers from each one of the churches. We crossed the lines of denominations for one great cause. Praise His name.

  7. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    What a wonderful article about a great experience for kids. I’m with R.V. on the camp for adults. I was interviewed by a woman from Chicago who mentioned that there is all sorts of mental health services available for Carr Fire people that are not being used. I said “There are? I haven’t heard of any.” I just read that Redding has teamed up with the Shasta Regional Community Foundation to put on a Carr Fire Community Gathering next month. Good for Redding! This will be so healing for so many people. Shasta and Keswick who took the hardest hits from this fire ( the majority of people in both communities lost their homes ) don’t have the resources that Redding does, but maybe the SRCF can help me organize an event for Shasta. I’ll call them tomorrow.

  8. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Doni, I forgot to mention that I was impressed that this camp was focused on giving kids coping skills for disasters of any kind. Unfortunately, disaster comes in many forms, and children are vulnerable when they try to work things out in their own mind without being able get feedback from more experienced people. Thank you for a great article.

  9. Avatar Barbara Grosch says:

    As a volunteer for this camp and someone who lost my home in the Jones fire, this camp brought back many memories for me. I would say that it did help the adults who were volunteering as well as the kids.
    But, yes, perhaps a Camp Noah for adults would be useful! As the kids told their “fire story” I was so moved by their attention to the details that impacted their lives, especially the loss of their beloved pets. Camp Noah was a great experience for them and for me. And thank you for acknowledging Trinity Lutheran. Their volunteers were a big part of this whole experience.

    • Bless you for your work at this camp, Barbara. And my condolences for the loss of your home in the Jones Fire.

      And you’re welcome for including Trinity Lutheran. It was an oversight on my part after Marj had taken time to give me the name of the five churches. (If you could see my notebook scribbles you’d understand how I could miss one.)

  10. For those looking for resources for adults, check out the CalHOPE Shasta Facebook page. They are offering workshops throughout the summer to support children and adults that were affected by the fire. Additionally, plans are underway to train 100+ people from our region to lead mind/body skills small groups. These groups, based on the model developed by the Center for Mind Body Medicine, teach people tangible skills to calm the “fight-or-flight” stress response. Three facilitators have been offering these groups in Redding over the past few months and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.