Children at Camp Noah each made and decorated an Ark. At the end of the week, they brought home all their art work in a nice portfolio, and also received a backpack and blanket. Photo: Becky Wilson.
By Rev. Becky Wilson*
Where had I seen her, this laughing child before me? I had just arrived in the basement of Trinity Faith United Methodist Church in Northwest Detroit, Michigan, for the closing celebration of Camp Noah, a week-long program sponsored by Lutheran Social Services that travels to communities impacted by disaster. She looks so familiar…but somehow different.
Camp Noah Detroit was a collaborative effort of United Methodists in the area. With training and funding support from UMCOR [United Methodist Committee on Relief], the Northwest Detroit Flood Recovery Project (NwDFRP) had opened its doors in April 2015 to respond to the nation’s worst natural disaster in 2014. The project provides disaster case management to flood survivors from an office at Second Grace UMC, as well as construction and volunteer housing and coordination. I serve as coordinator of the project, which is funded by UMCOR and supported by the Detroit Annual Conference and Renaissance District.
When the NwDRFP was originally approached about hosting Camp Noah, I regretfully declined. Given the responsibility of coordinating a recovery project in an area where some 43,000 residents applied for FEMA assistance…and where more than eleven months after the disaster basements still need mucking out and sanitation…and where families spent a very cold winter without a working furnace, I did not think I could add Camp Noah to the calendar.
When Camp Noah called a second time, I replied that if I could find a local congregation to host and assist with coordination of the program I would happily welcome the opportunity. My first call was to the pastor of Trinity Faith, Rev. Jan Brown. She passionately said yes to the congregation hosting and coordinating.
Camp Noah staff arrived in Detroit Saturday, July 25, after an eight-hour drive from Pennsylvania. The team included a leader and fifteen college students serving as counselors. Calvary United Methodist Church, just miles from Trinity Faith, also in the Northwest Detroit area, housed the group for the week in their newly-upgraded volunteer hosting quarters.
Sunday, the group began turning Trinity Faith into a safe, caring, fun environment for children in Northwest Detroit whose lives were affected by the flooding of August 11, 2014. Although this disaster is the largest on record for 2014, it remains under the radar. In total, 38 campers participated in Camp Noah. Carol Lee, a member of Trinity Faith, served as the local site coordinator. She worked closely with Camp Noah to publicize and organize the event. With the help of church members and community partners, such as the Salvation Army, she coordinated breakfast, lunch and snacks for each day.
Rev. Marva Pope, pastor of People’s United Methodist Church, also located in the area, served as the camp mental health professional. Her role was to provide emotional and spiritual support to campers as they shared their flood stories. For these children, the flood is just one of many disasters impacting their lives.
At Camp Noah, each child made a flower and wrote out their hopes and dreams. All of the flowers were hung on a bulletin board and together became the Seeds of Hope Garden. Photo: Becky Wilson.
As I took my seat, I wondered at my surroundings. A bulletin board-turned-garden, where each flower petal included the campers’ hopes and dreams, hung near the door. “I want to be a princess…go to college…drive a corvette…be happy.”
That’s where I’d seen her! The first home on the NwDFRP case load I visited reflected the serious, unseen impact of the flood. In May, the home still had water and sewage in the basement. Mold was growing up the walls. Could the little girl smiling and laughing in the church basement be the same little girl I met on her front porch? The change was profound. While volunteers with Mennonite Disaster Service, who along with All Hands Volunteers is one of our partners in this recovery effort, carried wet debris from her basement to the curb, she stood watching. She was neither smiling nor laughing that day. No one was smiling or laughing that day.
The campers, divided into groups, sang and danced as part of the closing celebration. David Hershey, Camp Noah leader, gave an account of the week’s activities. He talked about the biblical story of Noah. “Noah and his children,” he began, “discovered gifts and talents they did not know they had … because of the effects of the flood.”
The August 11, 2014, flooding has been a lesson in discovery for many. Flood survivors have discovered their strength and resilience. Responders have discovered the need for preparation and planning. United Methodist congregations have discovered new ways of being in ministry with their community. I, a deacon, have discovered new understanding of the call to Word, Service, Justice, and Compassion. Children have discovered new voice and rhythm. And through Camp Noah, we have all discovered new hopes and dreams.
New reasons to laugh and smile.
*Rev. Becky Wilson is a deacon serving the Detroit Renaissance District of The United Methodist Church, including as project coordinator of the Northwest Detroit Flood Recovery Project (NwDFRP).