Who are the 1,200 children who will head for summer camp in the next few weeks, thanks to our annual Send a Kid to Camp campaign? My associate, Karina Porcelli, caught up with two of the more energetic campers-to-be last week in the Maryland suburbs. Her report:
For most children, summer camp is something to look forward to every year. It is a time to be with friends, sleep in bunks, eat marshmallows and go on hikes. Jerome and Kenneth are looking forward to camp for many of the same reasons -- and one more: They have never been to the country before.
Jerome, 8, and Kenneth, 7, were with their younger brother, Willie, 5, when I arrived at their home in Prince George's County one afternoon. They were sitting around the coffee table, furiously coloring, when I asked them if they were excited about going to camp. They immediately jumped to my side, squirmed over each other and gave me all the details of their planned two-week trip.
"We're gonna play basketball and football and roller-skate and we won't have to come home for dinner," explained Jerome. "We'll go hiking and see animals and new things."
"I'm gonna try and stay under the water without my breath," exclaimed Kenneth.
Jerome, who is more cautious than his brother, has decided to opt for more sedentary activity. "Once I got water in my nose, so I am never gonna do that again . . . .But we can count the stars and see who gets the right number," Jerome said.
"I'm gonna catch a tiger," smiled Kenneth, exposing his snaggletoothed grin. Willie, who is two years too young to go to camp this year, echoed, "I am gonna catch an elephant . . . . "
What impressed me most about the boys was their close relationship. Jerome, the oldest and the most precocious, often acts as spokesman for his brothers. They usually add to his commentary with excited yelps and jumps. The younger boys often hug each other, and quickly their arms and legs will turn into pretzels as they wrestle.
All three boys are foster children. They were turned over to a foster home by their mother three years ago because she had six children, more than she could handle. The father has been in prison for the past six months.
Willie suffered from malnutrition as a toddler but has recovered. Kenneth may have had the same ailment, although doctors are not certain. He is hyperactive and has learning disabilities. Jerome is the only brother who has not had physical problems.
The boys have lived with their current foster mother for the past two years. However, she is retired and lives on a fixed income, which is too small for her to be able to send the brothers to camp.
The closeness of the brothers is no surprise to Evelyn Sylvest, the Family and Child Services social worker who works with the children.
"It's often the case with abused or neglected children that they end up being very close because they are the only stable part of each other's lives," she said.
"The camp program is helpful for any child. It's important to interact with nature and to have the opportunity to be free and relaxed. At the same time, however, the camp is structured so it teaches certain concepts in leadership and getting along with their peers . . . . Besides, it's fun in the sun," said Catherine D. Horn, program director for group foster care.
But the prospect of fun does not mean the brothers don't have serious misgivings about a two-week trip to camp.
"I'll miss Mom . . . . I wish she could come, but I'll bring a picture if she lets me," said Jerome. "I'll take a picture of Willie, too . . . . I've never been sleeping outside before."
"I'll be glad when its time to go," Kenneth added.
"How long is a month?" asked Jerome. "As soon as I get there, I'll make my tent. Then we'll do some activities . . . . Maybe we'll ask the teacher if we can go hiking. Then, by the time we get back, we'll be hungry . . . . It will be a nice day."
"Like Mother's Day!" said his little brother.
Kenneth and Jerome will not go to camp this summer unless you help. Our fund-raising goal this year is $200,000. The campaign will run through the end of July, but the more money we raise before the first campers depart on June 23, the better.
If you would like to send one child to camp for the allotted two weeks, please contribute $310. However, donations of any size are welcome.
All donations are tax deductible, and greatly appreciated. As in past years, every cent that is contributed goes directly to feed, house and equip campers. None of the money is used for administration, or for further fund raising. As many previous contributors have said, this is one check you can feel good about writing.
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, Washington, D.C., 20071.