Putting on a puppet show for the kids at Camp Noah, Fort Plain NY, 2014
Putting on a puppet show for the kids at Camp Noah, Fort Plain NY, 2014. Photo courtesy: Ralph Paparella

Each year caring and dedicated volunteers from across the country come together for Camp Noah, to support children who have been impacted by disaster. Liberty’s Lutheran Congregational Services works with Camp Noah, a program of Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, to raise volunteers and lead week-long day camps, which focus on recovery and building hope and resiliency for young survivors of disaster.

“Sometimes children are the last ones to be considered following a catastrophic event. Adults are so busy with physical recovery, housing, supplies, and restoring their lives that children may not get the attention they need for quite a time after the event, if at all,” explained Ralph Paparella of Temple, Berks County, and a member of Friedens Lutheran Church in Oley. Ralph was among a dozen volunteers who traveled to Fort Plain, New York for Camp Noah last summer.

Severe flooding devastated the Fort Plain community during a heavy rain storm in June 2013. Rivers and creeks swelled over their banks and overwhelmed the small town, located about 60 miles west of Albany. The rain and flooding damaged houses and businesses, closed roads and forced residents to flee their homes. The damage was still visible 14 months later, when Ralph and his fellow volunteers arrived in Fort Plain for Camp Noah.

“Some families are still struggling to rebuild or clean-up their homes,” Ralph said. “Others have been able to repair the flooding damage, but their children are still traumatized by the event,” he added.

The Fort Plain Camp Noah was held at a local church. Staff and volunteers worked with youth in first through sixth grades in a variety of exercises and activities, held in small and large group sessions that enable them to process their disaster or trauma experiences and give them the opportunity to tell their stories and build resiliency skills. The curriculum includes music, skits, puppet shows, crafts and recreation. Ralph assisted another team member leading the fifth and sixth graders. He also headed up the audio-visual needs and served as a photographer.

Volunteers like Ralph stayed at a nearby church for the week, where they ate breakfast and dinner, and slept in sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses. When the week came to an end, the 65-year old had a lot to think about during the five hour drive back home. The post-Camp Noah reflection is almost like a ritual for Ralph now, having volunteered with the program five times.

“I always think about my grandchildren, what might happen with them in the event of a disaster and how they might fare,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to leave camp and not think back on the kids and the locals… what you learned about them and their situations,” he added.

Witnessing the children open up over the course of the week and express themselves, he said, is the most rewarding experience for him and keeps motivating him to volunteer time and time again.

“I believe children who go through Camp Noah are changed in a positive way to better cope with life,” Ralph said. “It’s very heartwarming.”

About Lutheran Congregational Services

Lutheran Congregational Services is a service of Liberty Lutheran, a social ministry organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Liberty Lutheran provides vital resources to more than 60,000 individuals annually, from the earliest stages of life to the advanced stages of aging through its family of services in Pennsylvania. For more information go to www.libertylutheran.org or  www.lutherancongregationalservices.org

(Photos Courtesy of Ralph Paparella)