Miss North is many things. She’s a student who likes math and French. She’s a singer in her church’s youth choir. She’s a roller-skater who loves to go with her friends to Skate Zone in Crofton. She’s a reader whose bedroom is full of books. There are lots of things that the 14-year-old Miss could do with her life, but when I ask her that horribly predictable adult question — What do you want to be when you grow up? — she answers without a moment’s hesitation.
“I want to be a psychologist,” she says.
A psychologist? Really? Why?
“There’s a lot of weird people in the world,” Miss says in that unabashedly direct way 14-year-olds have. “I know it’s not their fault that they’re weird, they just need somebody to talk to. I want to know what’s wrong with them. I can talk to them.”
Her grandmother Vivian Clark looks on. Everyone calls her “Muya,” the word her grandkids settled on when they were young and couldn’t pronounce “mother.”
“I guess she feels like she’s in the position [to help people],” Muya says. “Maybe they need people that have been without their parents, talking to them in that way.”
Miss’s father died six years ago. When Miss was 3, her mother found herself in circumstances that made it impossible for her to care for Miss and her four siblings.
“So I stepped up to the plate and got custody of the children,” Muya says. She’s 66 and has worked for Metro for almost 33 years, most recently as a station manager at McPherson Square — though for the past few months she’s been fighting arthritis in her leg and not been able to work.
“I tell everybody I’m their ‘Grandma Mommy,’ ” Muya says.
Miss’s name was inspired by the name comedian and activist Dick Gregory gave to one of his daughters, a name he hoped would force people to address her with respect. Miss is the youngster in the family, with two adult brothers and two adult sisters ranging in age from 20 to 29. When we sit down in Muya’s Mitchellville kitchen, Miss is wearing a blue T-shirt from Camp Moss Hollow. She’s going to the summer camp’s first session, which begins Monday.
It was a friend who told her about Moss Hollow, which each summer brings together at-risk kids from the Washington area for a week in the woods of Fauquier County.
“I was like, ‘This sounds interesting,’ ” Miss says. “Then I told my grandma.”
That was three or four years ago, and Miss has gone every summer since. Her Muya likes to keep her busy.
It must be tough, I say, not having your mom around.
Miss is quiet for a moment, then brightens and smiles.
“It’s not as hard as you’d think it may be, because I have my grandma,” she says.
Muya agrees. “It’s not as serious as some people want to put it, because I’m here. I know I can’t take the place of your mother, but I have mom experience.”
And, Muya says, it’s useful to remember that though you may think you have it tough, others have it tougher than you.
“My thing is, you might not have your parents, but you have someone that loves you and cares for you,” Muya says. “Be thankful you have someone. It could have been the other way.”
Since it was a friend who turned Miss on to Camp Moss Hollow, I ask Miss what she would say to kids who wondered whether the camp was right for them.
Miss — reader, mathematician, singer, future psychologist — launches easily into her spiel: “I would say: Have you ever heard of Camp Moss Hollow? It’s a camp. It’s awesome. You should really go. What do they do there? They do a lot of stuff. It’s like a camp in a movie. You can’t forget it. It’s like a big happy family. It’s like a second home in the middle of the woods.”
With their donations big and small, readers of this column help keep Moss Hollow going. We are about three weeks into this summer’s fundraising drive for the summer camp operated by Family Matters of Greater Washington, one of the area’s oldest charities. Our goal is to raise $500,000 by July 27. So far, we’ve raised $99,543.35.
Won’t you donate? To make a tax-deductible gift, 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.