"Joe is ten years old, and a very slow learner," a typical article began, in 1966. "He is quiet and withdrawn and very fearful. He has only been away from the city once . . . .
"Two weeks away at camp will give Joe the opportunity to play baseball, swim and go canoeing. But most important, camp will help Joe to get along with kids his own age, and to have a wonderful time."
Those words, and thousands like them, were published in the Washington Star, which for 35 years raised funds to send underprivileged Washington-area children to camp. Beginning in 1947, the Star raised more than $1 million for the Send a Kid to Camp program run by Family and Child Services, the largest private welfare and counseling agency in the city.
But last Aug. 7, the Star shut down and the staff at Family and Child Services became deeply concerned. Would the camping program disappear? Was there anywhere to turn for help from the public?
I'm happy to report that the answer to the first question is no, because the answer to the second question is yes.
It's my privilege to announce that The Washington Post, and Bob Levey's Washington, have taken over the task of raising the money to send 1,100 kids to camp this summer.
Those kids don't come from all walks of life. They come from one--poor.
The only criterion for admission to one of the three Family and Child Services camps is that a youngster be a member of a family which can't afford to send a child to any camp. One measure of how many such children there are in the metropolitan area is that this year's 1,100 places already are filled.
"We could send twice as many kids if we had somewhere to put them," says John Theban, executive director of Family and Child Services. But right now, the chief battle is to come up with enough money to send 1,100 kids packing. Without it, some of the 1,100 who have been assured that they're going to camp might have to be told that they aren't going after all.
Here are the numbers:
The budget for this year's camping program is about $308,000. The United Way is expected to supply about $178,000 of that amount. Another $32,000 will come in the form of food subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That leaves a shortfall of about $98,000. That's the number we're shooting for.
I'll be asking you for contributions in this column throughout the next several weeks. In the process, I'll introduce you to some of the young people who will go to camp this summer with your help. Around mid-summer, I'll drop in on the three Family and Child Services camps to report on how everyone is doing.
But back to the numbers for a minute.
To raise $98,000 over the next few weeks would be wonderful, but it would also be minimal. The reason is that the Family and Child Services camping program incurred a sizable debt over the past decade that imperils the program even if all 1,100 kids do get to go this year.
Since 1975, the Star campaign raised an average of about $60,000 a year. That was about $30,000 a year less than the camps needed to break even. "The agency would absorb the difference out of restricted reserves," Theban said. "But we no longer have any reserves."
In addition, because of federal budget cuts, the $32,000 in food subsidies won't be available next year. So if the program is running on empty now, it will run on emptier in 1983. Any funds that you contribute over and above the basic $98,000 will go to replenish reserves or prepare for future pressures.
What's in it for you? A tax deduction. A nice warm feeling. And a contribution to the long-term welfare of your community.
John Theban puts it this way:
"I don't think the world will ever be short of its ills because children go to camp. But it's a start."
Indeed it is. To contribute, as I hope you will, make checks or money orders payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail them to:
Bob Levey, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW., Washington, D.C. 20071.
Many, many thanks in advance.