Our annual Send a Kid to Camp fund-raising effort moves into high gear this month. Three weeks from today, the first of 1,200 underprivileged Washington area children will head for camps in Virginia run by Family and Child Services, a Washington social welfare agency. For the 39th consecutive year, donations from the community will pay the freight.
The kids come home after two weeks. But one man seldom leaves Camp Moss Hollow. He lives there, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and in many ways he is the glue that holds the camp together. My associate, Karina Porcelli, spent an afternoon with him last month. Her report:
Some people are well-suited to their jobs. This man is perfect for his.
Lauriston Getchell Smith, which is the name he never uses, has been the caretaker at Camp Moss Hollow in Markham, Va., for 16 years. Getch came to Virginia after he lost his farm in Maine because of problems he was having with his back.
Though Getch has been a Virginian for more than one-fourth of his life, the clipped accent and succinct manner of a Maine farmer remain intact. His face is weathered and he looks his age of 63, but his eyes are clear and he reminds you of a movie character who always knows the difference between good and bad.
His manner is matter of fact and his speech consists mostly of yeps and nopes. Occasionally, he will surprise you with a few polysyllabic words. Prod him a little and you might even get him to tell you a story.
Getch manages the 450 verdant acres of Moss Hollow as if they were his own. His cap is high on his head and his head is full of the things that have to be taken care of at the camp.
"The windows are gonna have to be done all over again 'cause those frames just aren't straight . . . . Gotta find out why there isn't any 'lectricity . . . . I'm gonna cover that hot water heater with a box." His work never ends, but he admits that if he did not have work to do, he would go crazy.
Besides taking care of the swimming pool, the halls, the cabins and the grounds at the camp, Getch has designed and built some of the buildings. Still, he finds new projects to keep him busy.
"I tell you, see that vegetable garden . . . . This soil here is so full of rocks! I took away three truck loads of rocks before I could plant anything in there," Getch lamented.
He does not work directly with campers any more, and hasn't for several years. "But if any of the counselors need any help, I am on 24-hour-a-day call," he said.
For Moss Hollow lore, Getch is the man to see. "One year," he recalled, "there was a fella -- he had some emotional problems, and so, when it came time to plow the fields, I asked him if he could it. He said he could . . . .
"I stood back and George Green, who used to work here at the camp, came up to me and asked if the boy was supposed to be up there. I said yep.
"He asked me if I told him he could go up there. I said yep.
"He asked if the boy was making any trouble. I said nope.
"He asked if he was doin' it right. I said nope -- but he wasn't doin' any harm, either."
Another favorite Getch camp story concerns a boy who was thought to be mentally deficient. Getch took him under his wing and gave him the responsibility of making shelves for one of the buildings.
"I think he's doing well now. I believe he's working at the National Zoo. He's honest and true. If he breaks a tool, he's not the kind to try and cover it up. He'd tell you," said Getch.
"All they the children really need is some confidence. Ya give them some responsibility, and then, when they do something wrong, don't bawl them out, teach them!
"They get so much from camp, and it's so great, that I just can't say it all. It's so important for them to see what nature is. Here there are deer and squirrels and woodchucks. They need to know that there is another way of life.
"Country life is different from city life. Here, you need to live with each other and help each other out. In the city, it's not always that way. I just want to show them how others live."
Please remember that your dollars, and your dollars alone, will send this summer's crop of kids to camp. The program does not receive donations from any other source.
To send one child to camp for the allotted two-week period costs $310. However, donations of any size are welcome and appreciated, and all donations are tax-deductible.
SEND A KID TO CAMP SCOREBOARD:
In hand as of May 30: $30,392.30.
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.