Camp Noah set for OK youth

BY PJ HELLER | OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. | May 18, 1999


OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (May 18, 1999) -- With their homes leveled by tornadoes

and their parents trying to cope with rebuilding their lives, children

affected by the recent Oklahoma twisters may still have a chance to enjoy a

summer vacation at a special day camp now being planned.

Camp Noah, a camp organized by Lutheran Social Services/Lutheran Disaster

Response (LSS/LDR), will give youngsters "an opportunity to come together

and to process what's happened in their lives," said Melanie Josephson,

director of disaster services for LSS/LDR of Minnesota. "So many times (in

disasters), children are overlooked. Their parents have more demands on

them and have less time for their children. They need more."

The camp, she said, provides the children a "chance to come together and to

have a great time and to know that in the midst of all this, God continues

to love and care for them and provide hope."

The camp, currently being planned at several sites in and around Oklahoma

City, is modeled after the program Josephson created in North Dakota after

flooding there in 1997 and in southern Minnesota after tornadoes struck

that area in 1998. A total of 800 children have attended the camps, she

reported.

She said that for many youngsters in Oklahoma, the week-long camp program

might be their only organized activity this summer.

"For many of these children, they won't get a summer vacation because of

the financial setbacks, the hardships on the family, and the time that had

to be taken off to rebuild home," she said. "So for some kids, this is

their week of fun. We really try to build that in as much as possible."

In addition to typical camp activities -- arts and crafts, field trips,

music, sports and games -- the week-long camp has a religious component. It

treats the story of Noah as a disaster, allowing youngsters to parallel

their experiences in the storm -- from preparation through recovery -- with

the biblical story, Josephson explained.

"The first day they talk about how Noah was preparing for the flood, and

what they (the children) were doing before the disaster hit," she

explained.

The following day, they talk about, draw pictures of or write about, what

it was like when the tornadoes hit. On day three, the discussion is about

life on the ark -- or in the case of the youngsters, life in temporary

housing or shelters. That is followed by "the hope that was seen before

they got off the ark," or the children's hope for the future. Finally, they

deal with their new home.

Although the camp has a religious component, it is open free of charge to

any child from ages 6 through 12.

"It does have a Christian emphasis in it. We're very above board about

that," Josephson said. "It's absolutely open to all children. We welcome

children from all faith backgrounds."

The camp is expected to be up and running in July and will continue on a

weekly basis until school resumes in mid-August. Locations are being sought

at local churches or civic facilities. Each site can accommodate 50

youngsters a week and the camps can run simultaneously at multiple sites,

she said.

"Because of the scope of the disaster, I think we'll really try to focus on

those children who have been affected the most emotionally," she said.

Josephson said trained counselors will staff the camps. In addition, a

licensed psychologist will be available to talk with any children who are

experiencing emotional problems due to the disaster. It also provides a way

to address any family problems that may be occurring, she added.

"The children know that their parents are stressed and they don't want to

bother them any more so they'll bottle up their feelings inside," she said.

"This (camp) is a great opportunity for them to open up and express their

feelings and to not feel alone, because they know there are other kids who

are going through the same thing and they have the same emotions.

"So they're validating their feelings," she said. "They know they're not

crazy, they're just normal."

Josephson said that the response from parents whose children attended

previous camps has been enthusiastic.

"So many parents came to us and said, 'We've seem our children smiling and

laughing again. We're able to talk about it.'"

Posted May 18, 1999


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