After the Campfire, These Children Glow

For youngsters from city streets, catch-and-release fishing at Camp Moss Hollow can be a lesson for life.
For youngsters from city streets, catch-and-release fishing at Camp Moss Hollow can be a lesson for life. (By James Goodwin -- Camp Moss Hollow)
By John Kelly
Thursday, July 26, 2007

For the past eight weeks I've been talking in this space about what happens before kids go to Camp Moss Hollow -- about the day-to-day lives of some of the children who attend this remarkable summer camp for at-risk youngsters.

I've also been talking about what happens at Camp Moss Hollow -- about the swimming and the fishing, the games and the campfires.

Today I want to talk about what happens after Moss Hollow, for as every grown-up knows, all good things must come to an end.

When their week is over, the children board the buses for the return journey. They travel on a twisting gravel road that intersects with a twisting paved road. Twisting paved road intersects with straight paved road, which veers onto highway on-ramp. Highway on-ramp leads to interstate. Outside the bus windows, the green landscape fights with the first tentative tendrils of the city before losing its battle with the forces of sprawl.

Traffic slows (traffic always slows on I-66, no matter the day or time) and then, suddenly, the kids are back in Washington. With a wheeze, the bus doors open and the campers -- tired, bug-bitten, their heads spinning with memories, camp songs still echoing in their ears -- walk down the steps and touch asphalt.

That's one small step for a child, one giant leap for childkind.

But though they've left camp behind, the hope is that these kids will carry a bit of it with them.

"We tell them to thank their parents when they get home," said Hope Asterilla, Moss Hollow's director and director of youth development at Family and Child Services, the nonprofit that runs Moss Hollow. "Do something for them. Pay it forward. Do a good deed, something that would surprise a parent. Do a good deed and don't expect anything in return."

That's the true definition of charity. And that's the backbone of our Send a Kid to Camp campaign. Readers of The Washington Post donate money so kids can spend a week in the wilderness.

These are kids served by Family and Child Services, one of the city's oldest charities. Many of the kids are in foster care. For youngsters who bounce from home to home, a week at Moss Hollow every summer provides some blessed continuity.

"They don't have to wonder if I'm coming back," Hope said. She's there every year, the same camp director, along with the same cook, the same lifeguard, the same canoeing instructor.

"I know that we're the family for a lot of the kids," Hope said.

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