A dry run for a week at summer camp


Counselors at Camp Moss Hollow. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist June 25, 2012

The bus is late, but it’s coming. About three-dozen purple-shirted summer camp staffers are spaced out along the gravel road that leads into Camp Moss Hollow and the path that leads up to its open-air pavilion. It’s a welcoming committee for a busload of potential campers and their families: kids, parents and grandparents who took the 60-mile trip from D.C. out to Fauquier County.

There’s another welcoming committee, too: A deer walks out from behind Chase Lodge — the camp’s main office — and into the grassy clearing.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

“There should be two more,” says Sam Foy, Moss Hollow’s aquatics instructor. He’s leaning over a split rail fence, occasionally mopping his brow with a paper towel. It’s going to be a hot one.

“One big one and two little ones,” Sam says. The deer family has been crisscrossing the camp all week.

Hope Asterilla, head of the camp and director of the youth development program for Family Matters of Greater Washington, the charity that runs it, shows some of the improvements to Moss Hollow since my last visit.

The Boy Scouts were here in the spring clearing trails. They repainted the outside of the group of boys’ cabins known as Cedar Hill. Outside near the dining hall, the top of a hill has been leveled, the slope held back with railroad ties. There are benches, a fountain and flowering bushes that attract butterflies. It’s a place for quiet contemplation. They call it Pride Rock, like in “The Lion King.”

It means pride in the camp, Hope explains, but also the safe feeling that comes from being part of a group.

And then the bus arrives and the would-be campers and their families spill out. They look around at the neatly manicured lawn surrounded by trees, at the gazebo where the dinner bell hangs, at Pride Rock. . . .

“Now I understand why my grandson likes to come,” says Queen Elliott of White Plains. Her 14-year-old grandson, Vantino Johnson, has been coming to Moss Hollow for five years. She’s come alone today to check it out herself for the first time.

Mrs. Elliott grew up in the country and is in favor of the camping experience. “Let the flies get at them and the bugs taste them,” she says. “Let them say, ‘I’ve been without TV for a whole week and I didn’t miss it.’ ”

We go to the pavilion where Harrison West, a performing arts major at Morgan State, leads everyone in a cheer:

“Gimme a long M!”

“Mmmmmmmmm!”

“Gimme a short M!”

“M.”

“Gimme a long O!”

“Oooooooh.”

You get the idea. If you can’t spell “Moss Hollow” when you arrive at camp, you sure will be able to when you leave.

Next is a walking tour through the woods, past the lake, to the cabins, a stop at the pool — so inviting — then to the dining hall for lunch. Hope goes over the rules of the camp and what it is they hope to accomplish here. (“We want your kids to find us year after year,” she says.)

Hope gives the parents and grandparents some tips: Don’t buy new clothes for camp. Send them in clothes that can get dirty. Don’t send them with cellphones. The idea is for the kids to understand their place in nature. Besides, they won’t work out here anyway.

And that, really, is the point. How rare it is to be out of the city, out of reach. Who knows what good can come from that?

“You never know how your life can turn around from meeting someone else,” Mrs. Elliott says, convinced more than ever that this is where her grandson should be. “This is where it starts.”

Send a Kid to Camp

Last Friday’s open house was a dress rehearsal for this summer. On Monday, Moss Hollow welcomed its first campers. Over the next two months, about 100 kids a week will go to camp. Many of them are from poor families, single-parent homes, foster families. At Moss Hollow, they experience the outdoors under the able guidance of loving counselors. Families pay only what they can afford. Some don’t pay anything.

That’s possible because the camp is supported by readers of The Washington Post, who have been giving generously for decades. Won’t you give? Go to washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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