'This will be my third year," said Melvin matter-of-factly, as he crossed and recrossed his legs on the living room couch. "I want to do the same things I did last year -- swimming, art, going on a treasure hunt. And I just like to walk through the woods sometimes."

Who doesn't? And what better place to do it than summer camp?

Melvin is one of 1,100 Washington-area youngsters who have signed up to attend three camps in Virginia during July and August. We're trying to help Melvin take another walk in the woods through our annual midyear fund-raising campaign, called Send a Kid to Camp.

The campaign benefits kids from underprivileged homes throughout the area. They attend camps run by Family and Child Services, Washington's oldest social welfare agency.

Send a Kid to Camp is now in its 38th year. Melvin is in his 13th. His foster mother, Rozena, says he's "still a little babyish sometimes" at home. But not at camp.

"At camp," says Rozena, "he seems to do much better."

"You can make a whole lot of friends down there," Melvin explains.

It's not that Melvin lacks for friends or activities at his home on Delafield Place NW. He doesn't. It's just that there's a special feeling -- and a special reward -- when you tackle and overcome the challenges you find only at camp.

"Like swimming in the ten-feet," said Melvin.

Last year, that deepest end of the swimming pool was too scary. Melvin couldn't bring himself even to try it. This year, he is determined.

His fear of lightning is scheduled for extinction, too. Last year, says Melvin, a storm started crashing all around his bunkhouse in the woods. Melvin got so frightened that he climbed into bed with another boy. Much hooting and humiliation followed. This year, if and when another storm strikes, Melvin vows to go it alone.

To overcome such fears may not seem like a large accomplishment to some. But to Melvin, these are critical steps along the path to independence -- at a critical age.

"He has been a little homesick in the other years," says Rozena, who has been a foster mother for the last 15 years and has sent 35 children to camp under the Send a Kid to Camp program.

"Yeah," says Melvin. "The other parents come down to visit, and it makes me miss her."

"Every year, he writes me a card," says Rozena, chuckling at the memory. "It says, 'I'm ready to come home.' "

But Melvin needs to learn how to stand on his own two feet, and he probably wouldn't do that as well if he just stayed home.

"If I didn't go to camp," he said, "I don't know, I'd probably just ride my bicycle around." That wouldn't be as rich. Nor would it teach him as much as two weeks of cooperating with other kids, learning to live with counselors -- and, of course, walking through the woods.

But Melvin and hundreds of kids like him will need your help to go to camp this summer.

As a foster child, Melvin does not have -- or have access to -- money to pay for camp. Rozena has four other foster children. She is retired, and lives on a fixed income. Where other families can dip into savings for "specials" like camp, Rozena has no savings into which to dip. And Melvin is too young to get a job that would pay his way.

It will cost $304 to send Melvin (and every child) to camp for two weeks. Rozena says she realizes what a substantial amount of money that is. But she says she has seen the value of the camping program each year her kids have been involved.

"I love it when they come home, and their clothes are all dirty, and they drop their suitcases by the gate and head straight for the bathtub," Rozena said. "I think camp makes them more intelligent. I really do."

Isn't that worth some of your dollars? Isn't this an effective way to express your sense of community spirit? I think it is -- especially if you have fond memories of your own camping days, as I do, and as Melvin will.

Please remember that every cent you give is tax-deductible, and every cent goes directly to help kids like Melvin. Nothing is set aside for office expenses or further fund-raising. The money goes for peanut butter sandwiches, basketballs, patches in leaky roofs -- all the things that contribute directly to a good experience for kids who won't have it without your help.

Oh, yes. Your money also buys Rozena a break.

"When they go to camp," she says, with a grin, "it's the only time I ever get a rest." A noble goal, too.

Please contribute what you can, and do it today. Melvin says he "can hardly wait." Let's not disappoint him.


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.