All aboard the bus to Camp Moss Hollow

John Kelly
Columnist July 1

“The middle bus is for the luggage!” someone shouted after three yellow school buses pulled up outside the Model Cities Senior Wellness Center on Monday morning. This center in Northeast Washington was the meeting point for transportation to Camp Moss Hollow. Youngsters nervous with excitement milled about, laden with belongings they’d need for the coming week.

Soon, a line had formed at the bus’s back doors, and a bucket brigade of counselors passed forward a plethora of backpacks, suitcases and sleeping bags.

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

And pillows. There was a pillow sporting a Disney princess pillowcase. There was a Transformers pillow, and there was a SpongeBob pillow. One boy had an especially heroic pillowcase, emblazoned as it was with Iron Man, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk. There were pillowcases in floral patterns and zebra stripes, each a bit of home to be carried to the wilds of Fauquier County.

Zariah Brooks, 13, was on her way to Moss Hollow for the fifth summer in a row. The middle- schooler started going when she was a student at Abram Simon, the Southeast elementary school named after a famed Washington Hebrew Congregation rabbi and president of the city’s Board of Education. (The congregation is a big supporter of the school and of Moss Hollow.)

“I was scared to go the first year,” Zariah said of summer camp. She soon became a fan. Her grandmother, Diana Brooks, tries to send her at least twice each summer. Zariah was at Moss Hollow last week, too. The highlight: A snake slithered over her foot as she was coming out of the shower.


Madison Bowman, 9, peers out the window of the bus that will take her to Camp Moss Hollow. (John Kelly/TWP)

“I hope it’s going to help her make good choices,” Diana said of her granddaughter’s time at Moss Hollow.

Brothers Evan Simmons, 23, and Aaron Okafor, 20, have worked at Moss Hollow for the past few years in a variety of roles, from counselor to kitchen staff. When it’s not summer, Evan is at Towson University, studying psychology. Aaron is a student at Bowie State University, studying accounting. This summer, Aaron is a counselor in Alpine, the cabins for younger boys. Evan is a unit leader in Deerhorn, the cabins for older boys.

What makes a good counselor, I asked.

“You’ve got to be fun,” Evan said. “No one likes a boring counselor.”

“You’ve got to respect the kids so they can give you respect,” Evan said.

“You only get them for a week,” Aaron said. But even a week can plant memories, especially if they’re reinforced summer after summer.

“Many kids we see all the time,” Evan said, even outside of camp. “I was at Greenbelt Mall wearing my Moss Hollow shirt, and a young lady in the Foot Locker was like, ‘Hey, I used to go to that camp.’ ”

At the back of the bus, more baggage was being stuffed in. There was an audible groan as a counselor hefted a large rolling suitcase. “All this for four days?” he asked. (Because of Independence Day, camp is a day shorter this week.)

When the last bag was loaded and the other two buses were full of campers and staff members, the yellow caravan set off. The distance to Moss Hollow was just 66 miles, but it was a world away.

Send a Kid to Camp

You can help support Moss Hollow, a summer camp for at-risk children ages 7 to 14. Donate at www.familymattersdc.org. Or send a check, payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Family Matters of Greater Washington, 1509 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036, Attention: Accounting Department.

An anonymous donor is matching gifts up to a total of $100,000. What’s more, our friends at Clyde’s are providing gift certificates to their fine restaurants, including the many Clyde’s locations, the Hamilton, the Tombs and Old Ebbitt Grill. If you donate $200 to $299, you’ll receive a $25 gift certificate. Give $300 or more, and you’ll get a $50 gift certificate. (Certificates will be mailed in August.)

And here’s a great way to treat your taste buds and do some good: Order the Send a Kid to Camp special Wednesday at any Clyde’s restaurant, and the proceeds will benefit our campaign. On the menu Wednesday is the Clyde’s Burger (the Hamilton Burger at the Hamilton).

Name that tune

Last week, I wrote about Old Town Trolley tour guide William “Smokey” Jackson, who sometimes sings as he passes certain monuments in town. What songs, I wondered, might he add to his repertoire.

Silver Spring’s Marlene Cianci suggested that while passing the FDR Memorial, Smokey could sing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” a song Roosevelt used during his early campaigns.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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