It was 25 summers ago that a red Ford flatbed truck pulled up in front of Randy Dorsey's home in Southwest Washington. "Do I remember it?" asks Dorsey with a chuckle. "I was 16 years old and had never been away from home before. I guess you'd remember something like that."
The truck took young Dorsey to a place called Camp Pleasant, in Prince William County, about an hour's drive from Washington. There, Dorsey spent the summer washing dishes.
He was paid $50 for eight weeks, hardly enough to send a ripple through the economy--or his pocket. "But when you were poor like we were," says Dorsey, "it meant a lot."
Randy Dorsey runs Camp Pleasant today--along with two other camps in nearby Virginia owned by Family and Child Services, an area welfare and counseling agency.
Dorsey is the man who is wrestling with the final details of sending 1,100 Washington-area youngsters to camp this summer. But the biggest detail is a lack of dollars. Without them, "there are kids who may not go," Dorsey says.
The Send a Kid to Camp program has never failed to send a full complement of area children to camp since Dorsey took over as camp director in 1970. But this year looks ominous.
When we began our campaign in this column three weeks ago, we set $100,000 as our goal. That is what it will take to balance the books this year.
But we are only about 15 percent of the way there, and the buses leave for the first of four two-week sessions in less than a month. Randy Dorsey and his young people need your help.
Why bother to contribute? Because in every kid you help send to camp--kids who don't read and speak very well in many cases, kids who may never have been outside the city, kids with little or no self-confidence--there may be the germ of another Randy Dorsey.
"Yes, I was very, very shy," says Randy Dorsey, rocking back in his office chair. "I was a loner. I was the fifth of eight kids. Our family had a very hard time. We were very, very poor. I wanted to go to camp, but black kids just didn't go to camp in my day."
Dorsey's father burned trash for the D.C. government. His mother was a maid. "I can remember not sitting down to complete meals, just like a lot of the kids who go to camp today," Dorsey says. "Collard greens and a tall glass of water and you thanked the Lord for it.
"My grandmother was a vegetarian all her life because she had to be."
But working at camp as a dishwasher, then as a counselor, a supervisor and finally the director, gave Dorsey a purpose. It's the same sort of purpose he sees camp give campers.
"We have kids who've been terrorizers," Dorsey says. "But when it comes time to leave and go home, you have to go looking for them. There's a lesson in that, I think.
"Camp is a great learning experience for the kids. And some kids learn things you wouldn't believe. We have kids who never knew how to tie their shoes before they come to camp.
"But the biggest benefit is the change of environment for these kids. For some of them, they've never had a feeling of closeness before. They get special attention from an adult, a counselor, someone who's especially interested in you. In most large families, you don't get that.
"Don't forget, these kids have been sleeping four and five to a bed. At camp, at least the kid knows there's a different way of life. It doesn't have to be like it is back home."
How to achieve that special closeness? Dorsey has a rule:
"If I can't get a counselor who puts his arms around a kid, then I don't want him.
"Sometimes that's hard for a male counselor to do. But these kids are missing things like that.
"At camp, I want them to have it."
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, 1150 15th Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20071. Please do not send cash.