Kevin Martin is about as passionate as an animal fan can get. Before you have a chance to sit down in the family's cramped Capitol Hill basement apartment, 11-year-old Kevin has you in the back bedroom.

"I gotta introduce you," he explains.

There follows 15 seconds of Kevin groping under the bed. Followed by five seconds of distinctly catlike squealing. Followed by five kittens being held up by the scruffs of their necks. Followed by 90 seconds of incredibly intricate detail on the parentage, feeding habits and personalities of each.

"Why do I love animals?" Kevin Martin asks. "I just do, that's all. At camp, I'm gonna see bears and lizards and stuff like that. Squirrels. I can't wait."

Lizards and squirrels, maybe. Bears, unlikely. Still, Kevin Martin is going to camp for the first time not just to escape a steamy summer in the city, but to deepen his knowledge of the creatures he adores.

But he will go to camp only if you help.

The reason is that Kevin's family is painfully poor.

His mother, Maude, the only adult at home, is unemployed. She is enrolled in a job training program through which she is learning business skills. But the family financial cupboard is bare at the moment, so bare that Maude Martin couldn't come close to affording to send Kevin to a private camp.

But within two hours' drive of Washington, there are three excellent camps for poor children, run by Family and Child Services, an area welfare and counseling agency. We are trying to raise $100,000 this spring so that 1,100 young Washingtonians like Kevin Martin can attend those camps this summer.

But because of shortfalls in the past, and increased expenses at present, Family and Child Services is far short of the amount it needs to run the camps this summer.

"This has been a credit operation for all the [35] years we've been doing this," says John Theban, executive director of Family and Child Services. "But the need this year is critical."

For Kevin Martin, the benefits of attending camp for the first time will be no less significant.

"It's going to mean a lot to him, naturewise and mindwise," said his mother. "He'll have a long story every day about what he did and how he did it. It'll be like living in the country again for him."

"Yeah," interjected Kevin. "It'll be like Virginia again the family lived in Newport News until three years ago . In Virginia, I had a skunk, lizards, fish, all kinds of things. Remember when the rabbit chewed up the telephone cord, Mom?"

Mom remembers. She also remembers what seems to happen all too often on 17th Place SE, where the family lives.

"Two weeks at camp will sure be better than two weeks here," said Maude Martin. "There's a lot of fighting and conflict here. There's a couple of kids on the block that beat up and threaten everybody."

Indeed, my visit was interrupted by two police officers knocking on the front door. They came to discuss a break-in that had occurred at the Martins' home the previous evening. "Happens all the time," Maude Martin said.

Why should a Washingtonian who doesn't know Kevin Martin help send him to camp?

"It'd be like they're doing something for a young boy or girl to keep them out of trouble," Maude Martin replied. "Didn't anybody help them when they were little? This boy has a large interest in nature. It'd be a shame if he couldn't do anything about it."

Then she glanced at Kevin. "I just hope he doesn't bring anything back with him," she said.

Kevin roared with laughter. His eyes turned devilish. The five cats in the back bedroom might just have a lizard for a roommate one of these days.

With your help.

To contribute to the Send a Kid to Camp fund:

Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, 1150 15th Street NW., Washington, D.C., 20071. Please do not send cash.