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
Almost drove those animals crazy, crazy, children of the Lord
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
Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory
Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory
Children of the Lord
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.