Lutherans in Minnesota

Camp Noah gives kids a chance to find the rainbow in a crisis

Hugo is an interesting community,” says Cindy Johnson, Director of Disaster
Services/Camp Noah for Lutheran Social Service/Lutheran Disaster Response.
She has flashbacks to the 1950s, she explains, because people “live on a cul
de sac, and they raise each others kids so they grow up together.” But now,
because houses were damaged by the May tornado, families are living “all
over the place.”

Camp Noah, an LSS-sponsored youth experience to help children deal with
the disasters they have encountered, has stepped in to bring the kids back
together for a week in July.

Camp Noah’s origins come in response to the 1997 floods in Grand Forks,
North Dakota. It became a national program when Hurricane Katrina
overwhelmed much of the Gulf Coast.

When Camp Noah goes into a community, “first we find a superstar who really
cares about the kids; then the program falls into place,” Johnson says. “We
find a congregation to sponsor the program, providing space and volunteers.”

In Hugo the sponsoring congregation was Hosanna Lutheran Church (ELCA),
which has campuses in Forest Lake and Hugo. “Pastor Sparby was the
catalyst, and they have put together a great week.”

Almost 60 kids are registered for the camp; more than two dozen volunteers
were with the kids, giving an adult to child ratio that allowed kids to get some
significant attention.

“This camp is an opportunity for kids to get back together,” Johnson says.
Rick Bahnemann, a volunteer from Hosanna working with the kindergarten
kids, concurs. “We get to interact with kids when they are looking for
support.”

Johnson tells of one little girl who, with tears in her eyes the second day of
camp said, “They are tearing down my house today.” Johnson adds, “Their
lives are affected for a long time.”

“The program parallels the story of Noah,” says Johnson. “On the first day,
Noah heard about the storm and built an ark. We asked, ‘What can you do?’”
Mid-week the kids were asked about temporary housing, like the ark.
“During the end of the week, we talked about hope and the future.”

There seems to be agreement that in a week children have “time to feel and
heal.”