Home is not necessarily a place Ashannté Edwards wants her two older boys to spend a lot of time these days.
Oh, it’s fine during the school year, when Anthony, 13, and Sa-Quan, 8, are busy with class and homework. But during the summer, she worries about the unhealthy influences in her Southeast neighborhood.
“Where I live is a place where no one would like their child to live — myself anyway,” she said. “I’m trying to do any and everything to place them where they won’t grow up with a negative environment.”
Ashannté tries to keep the boys and their two younger brothers involved in different activities, like at her church, Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church on Rhode Island Avenue NE. For at least one week, she knows they’ll be safe from the dangers of the street: the week they’re at Camp Moss Hollow, a summer camp for at-risk kids that’s nestled in the Shenandoah Valley.
Ashannté was among the parents who gathered one afternoon last week at East River Family Strengthening Collaborative on Minnesota Avenue NE, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of residents in Ward 7.
Last month, it co-sponsored an anti-violence youth summit that featured workshops on gang prevention, anti-bullying and avoiding the dangers of synthetic marijuana.
East River also compiles a list of free and inexpensive summer activities for youths, a 20-page booklet that’s pored over by parents eager to keep their children occupied. And for eight years, the organization has sponsored campers at Camp Moss Hollow.
On Wednesday, East River held an orientation meeting for campers new and old. Stacked on a table were supplies staffers had purchased for the kids going off to camp: soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, wash cloths, towels, tissues. There were two dozen East River drawstring bags to put everything in.
I asked Mae Best, East River’s executive director, how Camp Moss Hollow is beneficial.
“I think the kids come away from the hustle and bustle of the city,” she said. “It exposes them to open space. Some people never leave their communities and neighborhoods. It gives them an opportunity to go somewhere else and really just interact with other people.”
The fact that parents in financial straits needn’t pay for camp is key, said Diane Weldon, community services coordinator at East River. “Most parents can’t afford it without a scholarship,” she said. “It gives the child an experience in rural open spaces that they might not normally have. And it’s a respite for the parents, which they sometimes surely need.”
This will be 14-year-old Secret Webb’s second year at camp.
“It’s a good program,” said her mother, Diana. “They’ve got to learn to go away and be socialized and be around other people. That’s the reason I wanted her to go to camp.”
Ashannté’s sons Sa-Quan and Anthony went last year, too, though on this particular day Anthony is taking a placement exam for the charter school he’ll attend in the fall.
Angel Weldon, Diane’s granddaughter, hasn’t been yet. She and the other East River kids left Monday morning.
“At first I didn’t want to go,” said Angel, 13. “I said, ‘I don’t know people. I don’t even know one person.’ I asked my aunt. She said, ‘It’s fun. You should try to go since it’s a new thing for you.’ ”
Her aunt, Charmaine Weldon, went to Moss Hollow as a child and was happy to encourage Angel.
“It was a great experience,” Charmaine said. “It taught you basic survival skills.”
Now Angel looks at it this way: “You should always try to do new things you’re not used to doing, just to get out of your comfort zone.”
For many campers — those whose parents want only the best for them — Moss Hollow will actually be a comfort zone they might not otherwise be able to enjoy.
It’s easy to take things for granted. If you have a certain type of lifestyle, your kid will go to summer camp, as sure as night follows day. You fill those forms out without a second thought. I know I did. But many of our fellow Washingtonians can’t think that way. Money spent on camp means money not spent on something else.
That’s where you come in. Moss Hollow is able to extend scholarships to so many children because of the support Washington Post readers provide. It costs Family Matters of Greater Washington, the charity that runs Moss Hollow, $700 for every kid that goes to camp. A gift of any amount will be appreciated.
To make your donation, simply go to washingtonpost.com/camp and 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.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.