When two key members of your family fall on hard times, it can be trying, especially if you're an 11-year-old boy. But the prospect of summer camp under our Send a Kid to Camp program is doing a lot for the boy's spirits. My associate, Michelle Green, has the story of a young camper-to-be named Tayon:
Eleven-year-old Tayon Glover has had a difficult year. His 17-year-old brother, Ralph, also known as "Genghis," is on probation after being convicted of cocaine possession. Genghis can't play basketball with Tayon because he must spend his time looking for a job. Meanwhile, Tayon's mother, Veronica Flanagan, who has been diagnosed as having cancer, recently underwent radiation treatment. The treatments made her tired and weak. Tayon has learned to wash his own clothes and cook dinner.
Tayon, who is finishing his final year at Harriet Tubman Elementary School at 13th and Kenyon streets NW, works hard in school and afterward. His grades are all A's and B's. He recently won a foot-high basketball trophy and a community service award that his family displays proudly. But this summer, Tayon will get a break from his routine. He will leave his crime-ridden neighborhood and go to camp.
Tayon came to the attention of Sherrill Taylor, a social worker with the agency that sponsors the camp program, because of his brother's problems. Genghis is involved in After-School Kids, better known as ASK, a program operated out of Georgetown University that provides tutoring and esteem-building activities for teenagers on probation.
"Genghis was in the program, and Tayon just started hanging out with us," said John Zoltner, an ASK volunteer. Tayon became familiar with camping through the ASK program.
Camping is one of Tayon's favorite activities, second only to playing basketball. He went to Camp Pleasant two years ago, and is excited to be returning to the Virginia countryside (he'll attend nearby Camp Goodwill this summer).
"I'm a good swimmer," he reported. "I worked as a lifeguard at the baby pool because I passed the test."
Tayon also looks forward to finding animals at camp. "Once this kid had a salamander in his jacket, and a friend of mine saw it and cried 'cause he got scared. But I didn't cry," he said. Tayon's family has a parakeet, Tweety, and a turtle, Mr. T. Tayon looks after them both.
Tayon particularly wants to sing around a campfire. "He just sang in a 'Star Search' contest," John reported, while Tayon blushed. Tayon's singing prowess is all the more impressive because he has had surgery on his vocal cords and suffers from a slight hearing loss. "I'm so impressed at how much this kid does," John added.
Math is Tayon's favorite subject, and he once wanted to become a math teacher. Booker T. Washington is his hero, he said, because "he was a good teacher." Tayon might want to become a veterinarian (if he can't be a basketball player) because he loves dogs. "I can hypnotize dogs and birds. I can make our bird fall asleep," he claimed.
But he isn't sure if he'll do this professionally because, "I can't be a veterinarian and a basketball player. I want to jump like Michael Jordan, dunk like Charles Barkley and pass like Magic Johnson."
Tayon makes it clear that he doesn't like his mother to reveal his secrets -- like his skill at cooking pork chops or the fact that he suffers from allergies.
"He was going once a week for allergy shots, but since I've been ill I haven't been able to take him," his mother said, while Tayon groaned loudly in embarrassment. "The pollution around here doesn't help him any."
Veronica Flanagan was a nurse at George Washington University Hospital until her illness incapacitated her. Tayon's stepfather, James Flanagan, is a maintenance worker at the National Geographic Society. The expense of raising two children, caring for the child of a neighbor who has a drug problem and covering Veronica's medical bills would make camp impossible without the assistance of Family and Child Services, which operates Pleasant and Goodwill. "I'm just glad he has the opportunity to go," Veronica Flanagan said.
Tayon's mother hopes that in addition to building his health and strength, Camp Goodwill will teach her son pride and self-esteem. "I hope he'll be a stronger, more aggressive person, depending more on himself," she said. "I want him to become his own person -- a leader, not a follower."
In several key ways, Tayon already is.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.
In hand as of June 9: $55,332.37.
Our goal: $275,000.