AUSTIN, Texas – More than two years after Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast, some children in Orange County are still struggling as they try to deal with loss and change. To help combat these feelings and prepare children for future events, Orange County Disaster Rebuild, a long-term recovery group, sponsored Camp Noah at the North Orange Baptist Church this summer.
Students majoring in education, applied psychology, and rehabilitation and human services from the Penn State-Berks campus, led by Dr. Jayne M. Leh responded to the need. Leh said many of the children the group worked with in Orange County experience prolonged trauma from Harvey. Many had lost their home or belongings.
She said even two years after the storm, the effect of the trauma was “so severe, they acted like it happened that year. The trauma was very raw and emotional for them. It broke our hearts to see that. Two years out, the children of Orange are still hurting,” Leh said.
Leh has participated in Camp Noah since 2007 and has taken teams of students from the Berks campus since 2011 to serve across multiple states. Taking the students to Camp Noah is an opportunity to “be a professor on wheels.” Students who participate in the camp do not get course credit but are still willing to serve. In fact, they each pay a deposit to hold their place. They also train extensively with Leh before attending the camps to prepare to serve children suffering from trauma.
“Working with the children helps the students understand that while a child may appear fine, underneath may lie turmoil,” Leh said. Children may suffer from sleepless nights or disruptive sleep, be hypervigilant or unable to focus.
The curriculum of Camp Noah encourages the children to “tell what happened—tell their story—and gently and gradually unfold their loss,” according to Leh. She said the camp curriculum is designed for students to share their loss and their stories by day three. With the teachers-in-training, the children began sharing as early as the first day.
Michelle Tubbleville, executive director of Orange County Disaster Rebuild, said the 2019 Camp Noah held during the summer was the group’s third camp since Harvey made landfall in 2017. So far, the camps have served more than 120 kids in the county, the majority of whom are in third or fourth grade. Camp Noah was a community experience that brought together many nonprofit and faith-based partners.
Tubbleville said the curriculum of Camp Noah “builds resiliency back into kids” who have lived through a storm like Harvey. “It is probably the first time they have experienced something like this. Camp Noah helps them deal with the fear and shows them, ‘you are not alone.’”
Before working with the children, the Penn State Berks students toured Orange County and looked at areas of damage. The students also divided into small groups and attended church services on Sunday before the camp began Monday.
“We wanted to show the people of Orange County, we are human, we care,” Leh said. “Orange County touched the hearts of the students. They are closely linked to the community and don’t want to let go. It was amazing and filled with miracles.”
Although long term recovery begins and ends in local communities, FEMA offers support to long-term recovery groups such as Orange County Rebuilds through its Voluntary Agency Liaisons. The liaisons work alongside local nonprofit groups, businesses, governments and other organizations within a community to assist individuals and families as they recover from disaster. The liaisons also help identify resources to address specific unmet needs.
For additional information on Hurricane Harvey and Texas recovery, visit the Hurricane Harvey disaster web page at www.fema.gov/disaster/4332, Facebook at www.facebook.com/FEMAharvey, the FEMA Region 6 Twitter account at www.twitter.com/FEMARegion6 or the Texas Division of Emergency Management website at http://www.tdem.texas.gov.