The goal of our Send a Kid to Camp program is the same each year: To give two weeks in the country to children who would otherwise not have the chance to go.
Many campers live in foster care. They are the unintended victims of troubled or shattered family situations. To most of them, camp is a welcome break from the problems they have known for most of their lives.
Like 1,200 other D.C. area children, an 8-year-old foster care child from Prince George's County is looking forward to camp. But my associate, Karina Porcelli, discovered that the boy has another goal. He wants to be reunited with his parents. Karina's report:
As soon as I met the boy I was to interview last Tuesday, he fixed me with a hard and somber stare. Whenever I asked a question, his brow would furrow and his words would come out in well-rehearsed phrases, as if he had been preparing for our meeting all week. I would not know until the end of the visit why his answers were so careful.
The boy is originally from Guatemala. He is 8 years old and in the second grade.
Before entering foster care, he lived in a two-bedroom house that overflowed with relatives. His father worked 12 hours a day and his mother was mentally disturbed, so neither parent was able to care properly for the boy or for his sister, who is four years younger.
According to social workers familiar with the family, the boy was neglected and sexually abused by other family members. Finally, when the mother committed herself to St. Elizabeths Hospital as a paranoid schizophrenic, the children were turned over to foster care under the supervision of Family and Child Services, the oldest social welfare organization in Washington and the operator of the camps where Send a Kid to Camp children go each summer.
The home where the children now live is their second foster home, and it appears as if it will be their home for the foreseeable future. Their parents, who are now separated, have told officials that they desperately want custody of the children. However, they are incapable of taking care of the children, at least at this time.
The boy does well in school, though at first he had a language disability because he was so unfamiliar with English. He has corrected the disability so well that he has forgotten Spanish.
The boy considers himself black, and will tell you so. He is a quiet child, but the social worker assigned to his case, Karen Kramer, says that this is more a remnant of his Central American culture than a sign of an emotional problem.
The boy's foster home in Temple Hills is full of life and care. Around Family and Child Services, which has placed foster children there for many years, the home is famous for the lasting relationships that it nurtures.
Four foster children live in the home now, along with a natural child and one who is in the process of being adopted by the foster mother. She is big and strong and speaks with a thunderous voice. She has had 21 children in her home and hopes to have more.
I asked her if she looked forward to sending some of the children away to camp, expecting her to be eager at the prospect. She was taken aback, and replied forcefully that raising the children is all she wants to do and all that makes her happy.
"I had a dream when I was 12 years old that I would have 12 children living with me, so that they would have a home and a place where they could always come back," the woman said. She is obviously bringing her dream to fruition. Children were everywhere on the day I visited -- in the yard, in the living room, in the basement, in the kitchen. A 2-month-old baby, undisturbed by the bustle around her, lay sleeping in a tiny crib in the kitchen.
Meanwhile, the 8-year-old boy was explaining why he was excited at the prospect of going to camp.
"I wanna catch turtles and go swimmin' and then we'll take the turtles back . . . . We'll play, and we'll go mountain climbing," he said. He was quick to add that, although he planned to have a great time, he would miss his foster mother.
As our visit ended, it became apparent that the boy had thought I was a social worker. He seemed to have been hoping that if he answered all my questions carefully and properly, he would get the prize he really wanted, which was:
"Do you know when I can go home?
"To my real home?"
I told him that I did not know. He looked dejected for a moment and then continued to tell me about the turtles he would catch.
SEND A KID TO CAMP SCOREBOARD:
In hand as of May 22: $7,550.
Our goal by June 23: $200,000.
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.