At Camp Moss Hollow, the great outdoors is just a bus ride away


Darwin Denny, 8, left, and Ricarno Lightbourn, 14, right, sit with their mother, Laverne Lightbourn. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist June 24, 2013

Any relief Laverne Lightbourn felt when she saw the line of yellow school buses in front of the Model Cities Senior Wellness Center on Evarts Street NE on Monday morning quickly evaporated when she saw that they were pulling out.

She and her sons, Darwin and Ricarno, were a block away, laden down with sleeping bags and rolling suitcases. They’d taken a Metrobus, the Metro and another Metrobus to travel from their Southwest D.C. home to get to the chartered bus that would take the boys to Camp Moss Hollow.

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 they’d missed it by minutes.

“They’re going to cry if they have to go back home,” Laverne said.

I don’t really think they’d have cried — they looked like they were made of sterner stuff. And, anyway, as we waited in the hot sunshine with another tardy family that had just emerged from a taxi, the camp staffers who had remained said that an emergency bus was already being mobilized.

Moss Hollow was founded 47 years ago, carved out of 400 forested acres on a hillside in Fauquier County. Ever since then, it’s been an oasis for kids from the Washington area who might not otherwise get a chance to experience nature firsthand.

There are hiking trails, campfire rings, a ropes course. There’s a swimming pool, a basketball court, an arts and crafts cabin. There are counselors who started as campers themselves, who benefited from positive role models and return every summer to try to change lives.

Laverne first read about Camp Moss Hollow in my column in 2012. She contacted the charity that runs it, Family Matters of Greater Washington, and places were found last summer for Ricarno, 14, and Darwin, 8.

“It was their first time out of my company with strangers,” Laverne said. “They couldn’t wait to go back.”

Ricarno said his favorite part of camp was the week’s theme. The Olympic Games were underway in London, so activities centered around competition, though with some sports you don’t typically win gold medals for, including kickball.

Darwin liked meeting new people. “I learned how to communicate with friends,” he said. “I learned how to have fun.”

Darwin also liked the closing night ceremonies. During the week, campers are organized around their cabins: Alpine for boys 7 to 11, Boxwood for girls 7 to 11, Cedar Hill for older girls and Deerhorn for older boys. But the final night is more like a formal dance at which campers can mingle.

Not that all was perfection.

“The insects really bothered me,” Darwin admitted.

Ricarno passed along some advice he’d been given. “Don’t put on a lot of cologne — or scented lotion — or the insects will be all around you,” he said.

It says something about how appreciative Laverne is of Camp Moss Hollow that she got her sons up early and schlepped across town so they could go there. She works in health care, as an aide to an elderly client in Montgomery County. That involves a commute as well.

As they waited for the Family Matters staffer who would take them to the emergency bus, Laverne mentioned another of the charity’s programs she may explore: Ways to Work, which offers low-interest vehicle loans to help people get to their jobs.

And also, perhaps, to the camp bus.

But, never fear, Ricarno and Darwin would be getting to camp. Barring further delay, by noon they’d be bouncing along the gravel road that marks the last stretch before arriving at Camp Moss Hollow. And then: the trees, the pool, the other kids.

“I said to them, ‘Tell everybody thank you,’ ” Laverne said. “You have to be appreciative.”

Send a Kid to Camp

Washington Post readers provide the primary support for Camp Moss Hollow — and have for more than 30 years. Your donation allows kids whose families might not otherwise be able to afford it to spend a week at camp. To make a tax-deductible donation, go to washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says, “Give Now.” Or send a check, made payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Send a Kid to Camp, Family Matters of Greater Washington, P.O. Box 200045, Pittsburgh, PA 15251-0045.

Several readers have asked why checks are sent to Pittsburgh. That’s because Eagle Bank, the Bethesda-based bank that handles the charity’s account, has its mail-processing center there. While the post office box is in Pittsburgh, it’s the kids of greater Washington who benefit from your generosity.

john.kelly@washpost.com

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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