John Kelly: Reston Youth Get a Taste of Nature's Riches and U.S. Tradition

By John Kelly
Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Everybody in Reston is rich, right?

That's what I always thought, anyway. I mean, Reston's got a Morton's Steakhouse and four Starbucks. And it's in Fairfax County, which regularly tops the list of the wealthiest counties in America. The streets may not be paved with gold in Reston, but surely the curbs are made of silver.

"Please understand, there are some rich people who live here," LaShawn Timmons told me. "But the people we serve here are not that group."

LaShawn is youth director of Reston's Southgate Community Center. The Restonians she serves are a diverse group, families from Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, El Salvador, Mexico, Iran, Pakistan -- "the list goes on and on," LaShawn said. "We also have the typical American kid, too."

This is a group of kids who may not have much in common with one another besides their youth. But a community center is pretty good at building community, and over the next couple of months the kids who attend Southgate's day camp will be introduced not only to one another but also to some of the things that constitute a typical American summer: games, arts and crafts, singalongs.

A few dozen of the kids -- the ones LaShawn thinks can handle it, the ones whose parents sign off on it -- will even get a taste of sleep-away camp. At the end of June, they'll spend a night at Camp Moss Hollow.

LaShawn has introduced the concept slowly. Last year, Southgate campers went to Moss Hollow for just the day, returning to Reston before nightfall.

"We had lots of 'aha' moments last year," LaShawn said. "Kids here, they go outside, but it's different when you're free at Camp Moss Hollow. There's places to wander off to and see things. You don't have concrete everyplace. Does that make sense?"

There are plenty of deer in Reston -- as there are in every suburb in Washington -- but to see deer bound through the woods at Camp Moss Hollow is different from seeing them dodge cars on Hunter Mill Road.

"The kids we target to go to Moss Hollow are between 8 and 12," LaShawn said. "They've never had the outdoor camping experience at all. One of the things we're trying to focus on is having outdoor recreational experiences for these kids."

Often it's the parents who need convincing. Summer camp is not necessarily a concept someone from Pakistan or Cameroon is familiar with. That's why children go for only one night, to get a taste, to see some of the world beyond their Reston neighborhoods.

LaShawn is 40. She grew up in Alexandria. I asked if she went to summer camp when she was a girl.


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