Summer Camp Helps Children Deal With Disasters

Using their creativity and imagination, about 40 children are learning to express themselves without words.

"I think sometimes children hold everything inside, and it comes out at the strangest times," said Camp Site Coordinator Rita Radke. "For them, we're just new ears to hear it."

Rita Radke and 20 volunteers from Minnesota are hosting Camp Noah Two in Biloxi this week. Every activity is aimed at helping Katrina's youngest victims.

"The theme this year is 'resiliency,'" Radke said. "It's about living. It's about coping with life. It's about coming back when you're down. We don't want to dwell on the topic of hurricanes. We don't want to dwell on disasters. We want the kids to know that they can cope, that they can come back, and they can become stronger. We are a faith-based camp, and we talk about God and how God strengthens our lives."

"I can cope, because I have hope!" the children chanted.

That spirit of optimism is helping campers, like nine-year-old Austin Hunte. His family moved to Biloxi, just two weeks before Katrina hit.

"We lost our stuff in storage because we had just moved here," Austin said. "You feel so depressed and miserable."

Austin jotted down his dreams on a piece of paper and put them into a decorated box. He is learning to cut through the pain, and replace it with hope.

"I want to be here and play and have fun," Austin said.

"Do you want arkie arkie, or you want the hippo song?" Radke asked the children.

"Hippo!" they shouted.

Helping the children heal from a disaster has been a moving experience for the volunteers.

"I've heard their stories and I just feel very strongly about giving back," Radke said with tears in her eyes. "These kids have given back to me so much more."

The summer camp is free for children from Kindergarten through 6th grade. It's sponsored by Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response. And it's held at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Biloxi.

The American Red Cross will hold its own Camp Noah next week in Biloxi. If you are interested in signing up, call (228) 229-5531.