Hope Mitchell well understands that city kids have to adjust to the deafening silence of Camp Moss Hollow. She had to adjust, too.
"I can remember the first year I was up here (as a counselor)," said Mitchell, who now directs the camp. "Hey, I grew up at Florida Avenue and North Capitol Street. It was so quiet up here compared to that that I couldn't sleep. So I used to sleep with the radio on."
But Hope Mitchell adjusted, and now it's her job to help underprivileged campers from Washington adjust. One week from today, she welcomes 64 campers between the ages of 13 and 15 -- campers you have sponsored with your donations to our Send a Kid to Camp program.
The June 21 batch is the first of four two-week shifts at Moss Hollow, one of three camps run by Family and Child Services, a local social service agency. For many campers, Moss Hollow will be the first experience away from family and away from the city. "Every year," says Hope Mitchell, "we see again how different it can be up here."
And how lasting an impression camp makes. Last Saturday, evidence abounded.
The occasion was the annual Moss Hollow open house, for former campers, counselors and families. About 125 people drove the 70 miles to green, mountainous Markham, Va., to attend.
Duane Fauntroy was there. A 21-year-old student at Coppin State College, Fauntroy is about to spend his fifth summer as a counselor.
"It's not the money," says Fauntroy, who will earn $130 a week. "It's so I can help kids understand that they can care about somebody, and somebody can care about them."
Mary Wiggins was there, too. She's the camp cook. As in baked apples. As in sweet potatoes. As in rolls that are so good they ought to be illegal.
"Isn't it beautiful here?" she asked. "I've been coming here for so many years and I still think it's beautiful. You can see the children think so, too. That's worth the trip by itself."
Linda Miles was there. A camper for many years, she credits that experience with helping her forge a solid career as a D.C. policewoman.
And 20-year-old former camper Wayne (Walkman) Johnson was there -- with his briefcase.
Walkman says he got his first electronic inspiration at Moss Hollow. It definitely hasn't been his last.
"He's an electronics genius," says Hope Mitchell. "Look at this thing."
It reminds you of those secret weapons they're always giving James Bond. Walkman Johnson has greatly modified a briefcase that began life as a perfectly innocent American Tourister. It can now:
Sharpen a pencil. Play music on the radio (AM or FM). Wake you up with a concealed alarm clock. Dispense baby lotion into your palm. Strike a match. Even comb your hair (the comb sits in a slot by the right hand lock).
"I never would have had the chance to explore electronics if I hadn't been here," Johnson said.
Campers don't always grow up so inspired or so productive, of course. "A lot of kids come up here with a kind of Holiday Inn image," says Hope Mitchell. "It's a bit of a shock for them to find a daddy longlegs on the toilet seat."
There is culture clash, too, when kids discover that what might have been standard procedure at home is flat-out forbidden at camp.
"We search every camper's belongings as soon as they get here," Hope Mitchell said. "Any cigarettes, alcohol, drugs -- it all goes.
"We can't reform these kids in the 11 days they're here. We know that. We can let them know, though, that there are rules. For a lot of these kids, it's the first time anyone has laid down rules for them."
Is that the lasting value of camp? "The value of camp is proving to these kids that they can be good at something they've never tried before, like swimming or horseback riding," Hope Mitchell said.
Then she chuckled. "And they just might learn to sleep without the radio, too."
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.