A Long Way to Go to Camp
By John Kelly
Thursday, July 22, 2004; Page C11
Here's where we are: As of yesterday, we'd raised $392,369.67 for Send a Kid to Camp. Our goal is $750,000. That leaves quite a distance to go in a day. We need a big effort as we speed toward the finish line.
Camp Moss Hollow shows at-risk kids that there's a whole world outside the narrow confines of their day-to-day experience. As my assistant, Alex MacCallum, discovered, that world sometimes comes right to their cabin door:
As Englishman Martin Malone walked by American Timothy Bennett at Camp Moss Hollow on Friday, the two counselors grabbed each other's hands, intertwining them to make a fist. They snapped their fingers as they pulled their hands apart.
"You see that handshake on films," said Martin, 19. "All the campers and staff do it here. People don't do it in England."
The handshake is one of many American oddities Martin has noticed during his weeks at Moss Hollow.
"Thailand was the most culturally different place [from England] I've ever been," he said. "This is the second."
Most of the counselors at Camp Moss Hollow are Americans from the Washington area. Many rose through the ranks, going from camper to counselor-in-training to full-fledged counselor. But every year, the camp's directors also hire a few foreign counselors through a program called Camp America, which places young people from all over the world in camps across the United States. All five of this year's batch knew very little about Moss Hollow before arriving at the camp.
Sikelela "Ziggy" Owen, 20, is spending her second summer at Moss Hollow. A student at London's University of the Arts, Ziggy is the resident arts and crafts specialist, helping the campers make butterfly wings for the fashion show and teaching them how to make paper from scratch.
In the arts and crafts room Friday, she prepared the area for the final step in the week's project for the older boys: making footstools. The boys already had assembled and sanded the stools. To finish them, they had to paint two thin coats of varnish on their surfaces.
A few boys scooped big globs of paint onto their brushes and recklessly spread them everywhere. "Paint a thin layer," Ziggy said to one camper.
"I'm making a decoration," he replied. Ziggy smiled and let him be.
"Kids here are a lot more lively than they are in England," she said. "They're very confident."
The campers seem fascinated by the foreign counselors. They imitate their accents. They ask them to repeat alien expressions such as "bin" for "trash can" and "football" for "soccer." They barrage them with questions about their countries.
As some of the younger campers waited their turn to practice for the talent show, Alain Napier, a 20-year-old counselor from South Africa, showed a cluster of curious girls where his home town of Durban is on a map.
"That's so far away!" they squealed.
Jenny Tollitt, a 19-year-old from Liverpool, showed the kids England. "Ours is bigger than yours," the girls said, referring to the size of Jenny's country. "Alain's is bigger than yours, too."
Jenny good-naturedly agreed with the girls. She thinks that coming from such a faraway place helps her relate to campers when they're homesick.
"I just tell the kids how long I'm going without seeing my parents, and they usually feel better."
The experience has been difficult at times for some of the counselors but also rewarding. "This place is like a family for these kids," Martin said. "It's unbelievably stressful sometimes to work here. But I feel like I'm actually making a difference."
The Home Team
You can make a difference, too. Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to: Attention, Lockbox, Department 0500, Washington, D.C. 20073-0500.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/camp. Click on the icon that says, "Make Your Tax-Deductible Donation."
To contribute by phone, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in KIDS, or 5437, and follow the instructions.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company