Guest Blog: Project:Camp Provides Relief for Children Displaced by California Fires

Guest Blog: Project:Camp Provides Relief for Children Displaced by California Fires

 Airlink invites a new partner nonprofit Project:Camp to guest blog about how children are often overlooked in the chaos of post-disaster situations and how a little play and normalcy can go a very long way. 

A critical need that is often overlooked in the chaos of natural disasters is the need for childcare. Tens of thousands of families are displaced from their homes, and schools and daycare centers are often closed during these events. This leaves parents – already scrambling to deal with the fallout from disaster – with few options for a safe place to send their children.

That’s where Project:Camp comes in. With the help of our supporters such as Airlink – who generously provides free flights for our staff through its airline partnerships – we pop-up day camps for children displaced and impacted by natural disasters, such as wildfires. The goal is to create that safe, meaningful space, while giving children tools to help process trauma and providing a sense of normalcy at an abnormal time. Most importantly, it’s about letting kids be kids and giving them a venue to have fun with their peers.

Most recently, Project:Camp spent two weeks in Reno, Nevada running a camp for kids ages six to 16 displaced by the Dixie and Caldor fires that have together razed more than a million acres of forest in Northern California.

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As evacuation orders were being issued in the South Lake Tahoe area, three of our staffers were able to hop on United Airlines flights that took us from Los Angeles and Minneapolis to Reno, where many displaced families were headed. Once we landed, we began setting up camp, which was held at the local science museum, The Discovery. The camp ran for eight days from Sept. 1 through Sept. 10, during which time we provided more than 1,200 hours of free childcare to campers whose families had been displaced by the fires.

Our campers had full access to the museum, meaning they could play with, jump on, and interact with everything. We built robots, launched rockets and jumped on a seismograph to create and measure our own earthquakes. We performed an egg-drop experiment and attended sports clinics with the University of Nevada Reno Women’s Soccer and Softball teams. There was a giant 60-foot climbing cloud structure with a to-scale interactive model of Lake Tahoe, the Truckee River, and Pyramid Lake that was a constant source of fun.

Though campers arrived the first day a bit anxious because of the uncertainty of the moment, they were reluctant to leave at the end of the day, saying goodbye to their new friends and making commitments to return the next day. We held a gratitude circle twice a day, where campers shared what they were thankful for and one great thing that happened to them that day. It was incredible at times to hear campers share gratitude for the firefighters helping protect their homes and to be excited to share a fun moment they had with a friend. It was everything you expect a child to experience at camp, but it was even more impactful because of the circumstances that our campers and their families were facing.

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It was an incredible camp session and we’re thrilled that the children were able to have this experience during a time of such strife. But we’re also cognizant that as climate change drives up both the frequency and severity of natural disasters, the need for services is only increasing.

In California, four of the five largest fires in the state’s history have occurred in 2020 and 2021. Thousands of families have lost homes and hundreds of thousands have been displaced during these fire events as evacuation orders become the seasonal norm rather than the exception in some communities. This summer alone, fires across the state have already burned nearly 2.5 million acres led by the Dixie fire, which is not yet completely contained and is already the second largest wildfire in the state’s history.

Many of the communities impacted by these conflagrations are small and rural and the existing infrastructure and resources available are stretched thin – a reality that has been brought into stark relief as climate change exacerbates the toll of natural disasters. Finding ways to bring additional resources – like meaningful childcare – to the affected areas is crucial, and Project:Camp thanks Airlink and their partners for making sure we can travel where the need is greatest.

This blog was written by:

Mikey Latner | Co-Founder and Executive Director | Project:Camp

Ozzie Baron | Co-Founder and Deputy Director | Project:Camp

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