School is finishing, buds are opening, and the gaze of the entire town seems to be aimed forward, toward summer. That means it's time for a certain typist to kick off his annual warm-weather charitable effort: the Send a Kid to Camp campaign.

We hereby unveil the 1986 edition, my fifth at the helm, with high hopes.

High Hope One: that we can send 1,200 underprivileged Washington area children to camp beginning next month, as we have done for each of the last 39 summers.

High Hope Two: that we will raise a record sum of money with which to accomplish High Hope One.

Taking them in reverse order . . . .

Last year, thanks to a strong stretch drive, our camp campaign raised $193,230.68. That was about 8 percent better than the year before, and was the biggest total we've ever amassed.

This year? Well, they say that if you don't aim high, you never reach the moon. So let's point straight at a moonlike milestone: the first $200,000 camp campaign. We can do it, if you help.

What that money will buy is what it has always bought -- two weeks in the country for kids from 8 through 14 whose families are too poor to afford such an "extra" themselves.

The majority of the campers are kids who have been placed in foster care, or have emotional problems, or have been in trouble, or all three.

Most have never been outside the Washington area. Most have never hiked through the woods, or gone canoeing, or heard an owl ask "who-o-o-o-o" in the middle of the night. These are hard-edged, urban kids, used to streets full of broken glass and neighborhoods full of turmoil.

The idea of Send a Kid to Camp is to show them that there's a better way. The idea is that two weeks in the country may help these kids develop a more positive outlook on themselves, and on life, in the other 50 weeks each year.

The 1986 crop of campers will attend three camps, two of them near Dumfries, Va., the third near Markham, Va. The camps are owned and operated by Family and Child Services, Washington's oldest social welfare agency.

To send one child to camp for a two-week session will cost $310, according to Randy Dorsey, the jolly soul who runs the camping program. So if you'd literally like to send a kid to camp, $310 is what you should contribute.

Of course, if that amount is too steep for you, a smaller donation would be welcome. Donations of $5 to $50 have been the heart and soul of the Send a Kid to Camp campaign since it was born, and no doubt they will be again. High rollers are lovely, but medium rollers, taken as a whole, are just as lovely.

Regardless of how much you give, it would be especially appreciated if you'd give it soon. The first busloads of campers depart for Camp Goodwill, Camp Pleasant and Camp Moss Hollow on June 23. That's just six weeks from today. In the fund-raising game, six weeks is no time at all.

We do have a head start this year. Contributions have been trickling in rather steadily since the 1985 campaign closed last August. The trickles total $4,631.30. So we have already covered more than 2 percent of the ground we'd like to cover.

But the remaining 98 percent will materialize only if people like you and me head for our checkbooks. We can't expect a deep-pocketed angel to come forward and make a gift to end all gifts. We can reach $200,000 only if thousands of readers give, and give generously.

This year we've concocted a special way to do that. It has to do with the grand old game of softball.

Washington wouldn't be Washington unless think tanks ruled the roost -- and unless they argued constantly among themselves about which was most thoughtful and most politically correct.

We've decided to end the argument (for a few minutes, anyway) on June 21 with The First Annual Think Tank Softball Championship of Washington.

St. John's College High School in Northwest has graciously agreed to play host. At least 16 teams have entered. Each will kick in a $100 entry fee that goes directly to the camp fund. It should be an entertaining (and muscle-pulling and score-settling) way to fatten our war chest a little.

But there's no need for the rest of us to wait for June 21. The camp fund needs your contributions, and it needs them now.

Please help keep alive the D.C. tradition that The Washington Star so ably sponsored for more than three decades. Please help us prove that, when the chips are down (as they always are with the camping program), Washington will help those in its midst who can't help themselves. Here's how:

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.

Your contribution is tax-deductible, as always. Many thanks in advance.