—by Cindy Novak
Kim Rathjen’s mountain-high experience usually takes place on the last day of Camp Noah when children and volunteers come together to celebrate and praise God during the closing ceremony.
“To see the kids singing their hearts out brings tears to my eyes every time ” says Rathjen coordinator of inreach and outreach at Immanuel Lutheran Church Eden Prairie Minnesota. Over the past 12 years she and other members of the congregation have volunteered at camps in Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Texas.
“The change in the kids from the beginning of the week to the end happens every single time ” Rathjen says. “When they first arrive they are fearful and unsure of what it’s going to be like. They wonder if it’s going to be scary.” “But by the end of the week parents tell us: ‘I don’t know what you did but it’s so wonderful to have my child back ’” Rathjen says. “Regardless of where the camp is held that change hap-pens every time.”
Across the United States children find hope and healing through Camp Noah a national preparedness and resiliency program for children through Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. Camp Noah is for children impacted by trauma which may or may not include disaster-related trauma.
For more than 20 years members of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregations and Women of the ELCA groups have served as site coordinators team leaders mental health staff camp counselors and more. Others have contributed by creating fleece blankets Kids Kits and Preparedness Backpacks.
Camp Noah began in 1997 in response to flooding in the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota. “As parents worked with case managers on rebuilding their homes they reported how their children’s behaviors had significantly changed and started manifesting in several ways ” says Amanda Allen senior program manager of Camp Noah. “We now know through research that children can be impacted significantly by disaster and trauma.”
Camp Noah helps children process their experiences and build resiliency and preparedness skills Allen says. “We want to be able to give them those skills in addition to having a fun week at a day camp. It’s about making a difference in their lives going forward so they can better handle challenges in the future.”
“The components of healing and resiliency in the program are amazing ” says Susie Merrihew a clinical social worker and a member of St. Timothy Lutheran Church Naperville Illinois. She has served numerous times as a mental health professional at Camp Noah.
Merrihew especially appreciates the second day of the week-long curriculum—when children have an opportunity to tell their “storm stories.”
“It’s a chance for the kids to talk about their feelings fears sadness anger or loss and how the disaster impacted them ” she says. “For some of the kids this is the frst time they tell their story.”
“Unfortunately some of the kids won’t talk to their parents about their trauma ” says Sandy Forrest a member of Glen Cary Lutheran Church Ham Lake Minnesota. She has volunteered nearly 30 times for Camp Noah. “They are afraid that if they talk about how their friend lost their house or how their things got washed away in the food or blown away in the tornado it [will] make their parents sad.”
“Camp Noah is a place where they can get their feelings out and talk about them ” Forrest says. “There’s no judgment— there’s empathy.”
This article is excerpted from the June 2018 issue of Gather magazine. To read the full story or more like it, subscribe to Gather.