George Howard is a 43-year-old systems engineer who lives near Charlotte with his wife and 6-year-old son. When George was 7, he got on a bus that took him from the impoverished neighborhood near Gallaudet University in Northeast Washington that he grew up in to the Shenandoah Valley.
Said George: “I remember saying to myself, ‘I guess the world isn’t really flat.’ ”
George’s discovery may not have been as momentous as Columbus’s, but it broadened his life in ways that touch him to this day. He was going to summer camp for the first time.
What was so memorable about the experience? “Seeing the mountains, hiking, staying in tents and cabins,” George said. “Just the experience of being around different people, being away from home, feeling like I was standing on my own two feet, being a good child amongst this myriad of different personalities that you have surrounding you.”
You can help today’s 7-year-olds have the same experience.
Today, I kick off our annual Send a Kid to Camp campaign to raise money for Camp Moss Hollow.
George was a veteran of several of the camps run by the nonprofit now known as Family Matters of Greater Washington. There were Camp Pleasant and Camp Goodwill, two locations that closed as Moss Hollow, in Fauquier County, Va., was expanded.
Like many of the children who go to Moss Hollow today, George grew up in the foster-care system. His mother was not able to care for him, and his father was never a presence in his life. He went into foster care when he was 3. It was only after he moved from his first, abusive foster family at age 6 to a second family that he thrived.
“I would consider myself to be one of the blessed ones,” George said. “There’s been some who never made it to a solid and stable home.”
His foster father, Thomas Osborn, instilled a strong work ethic in George. His foster mother, Ellen Osborn, kept him on the straight and narrow.
And they sent him to summer camp. For the first time, George met kids and counselors from outside his D.C. neighborhood.
“In fact, my first true love was from Ohio,” George said. “She came to camp because she was attending her grandmother’s house that summer.”
George went to camp every summer between ages 7 and 14, and when he was older he was asked to work in the kitchen for the famed cook Ma Wiggins. “It wasn’t my first real job, but it was the first real job I liked,” George remembered.
George graduated from Eastern High School, then served four years on active duty in the Army as a Stinger missile gunner before joining the Reserve as a mechanic. Then he earned a degree from the University of Maryland University College. Now, he jokes, “I play with computers all day.” He is a systems engineer for a mortgage company. He decided to relocate to North Carolina to be near his wife Ginelle’s family, to give their son, David, access to the cousins he himself never had growing up.
I asked how David’s life compared with George’s at the same age. “At 6, he would have experienced bad parts of life,” George said. “He will never experience that, not as long as I’m breathing.”
And someday, George would like to take David to Moss Hollow.
“It was beautiful,” he said. “I can talk about Moss Hollow forever.”
You can help plant future memories and show at-risk kids that there is a world beyond their four walls. For nearly 40 years, readers of The Washington Post have supported Camp Moss Hollow. To make a donation, go to 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, Attn: Accounting Dept.
Now is a great time to give because 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. If you donate between $200 and $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 every Wednesday during our campaign, Clyde’s is offering a special Send a Kid to Camp menu item. Order the wild Alaska salmon this Wednesday, and proceeds will benefit Moss Hollow. Please help us reach our goal of $500,000 by July 11.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.