Our Send a Kid to Camp campaign provides children from underprivileged backgrounds with the chance to spend two weeks in the country each summer. One of the children scheduled to go to camp this summer has had an unusually difficult family life, as my associate, Karina Porcelli, learned last week when she paid him a visit. Karina's report:
Charles is astonishingly precocious and confident for his 7 years. His manner is so polished that even when you suspect that he is troubled, he is able to keep his voice in check and his actions sure and swift.
Perhaps that is how he ended up in the hospital last week. His self-assurance was able to get him to the top of the monkey bars at school, but it could not keep him aloft once he got there.
"I fell off the monkey bars because it was too high for me to fall on my feet," Charles explained, bemoaning his nonfeline landing and the broken arm that resulted.
If his arm continues to heal properly, as it is expected to, Charles will be off for his first trip to camp in a few weeks. He's happy about it, but his mood and style are cool. He tries not to show his excitement -- although it's obviously there.
"I want to see the Washington Monument and drive in fast cars and learn how to swim and fly in airplanes. That's about it," he said, keeping his list of camp goals short and direct. "I would also like to see a deer, 'cause I've never seen a real one."
Charles is a lean boy with eyes that scrutinize and a manner that is businesslike. His mother was unemployed, and his father has never supported the family. As a result, the mother could not provide her two sons with suitable living arrangements or sufficient attention. Once she realized that, she made the decision to place them in foster care.
When they were together, Charles' mother treated him more as a companion and confidant than as a son. As a result, Charles acts parental towards his 3-year-old brother and is very demanding of both peers and elders.
Julie Mayfield, the social worker who has worked with Charles, said that no matter what you give him, whether it be a bite of candy or a new toy, he will insist on sharing it with his brother. His independence and fearlessness may have come from being turned over to strangers at a very young age with his brother.
When I visited Charles in the hospital, Julie had just brought him a present. Though he had the use of only one arm, Charles insisted on opening the package himself. Immediately, he began to color in a new book with new Magic Markers. When he had finished, he capped the markers, checking them to make sure they were closed tightly, and carefully arranged them in their case. He then put them in his drawer and began to reorganize the few things that were left on his bed tray.
"Charles has a lot of emotional needs," Julie said. "But he needs to get along appropriately with other children. He should have the same opportunity as other children, and camp is one of those childhood milestones. It's also a time for the foster parents to take a vacation and visit family in Mississippi, when they can send all of the children to camp."
"Foster children live with foster parents who treat them well, but the children feel guilty. They do not feel they should be treated well since their parents never treated them well," Julie explained.
Charles' foster family lives in Fort Washington. The parents have had 16 foster children over 14 years. Four foster children and one natural child now live in the household.
The foster father is a Metrorail operator. His wife keeps busy taking care of the children. In 1985, the couple was honored for being outstanding foster parents by Family and Child Services, the social welfare agency that owns and operates the camp to which Charles will be going.
When our visit was over, Charles asked if the three of us could exchange phone numbers so we could stay in touch. He painstakingly wrote down my number with his right hand, while the broken arm hung helplessly. But neither a broken arm nor anything else seems likely to stop Charles from doing what he wants to do. Watch out, camp! Here comes one determined little boy.
Here he comes, that is, if you readers help send him.
Our Send a Kid to Camp campaign depends entirely on donations from the public. In just two weeks, the first busloads of campers are scheduled to depart. Won't you please write a check today to help the buses roll?
To send one child to camp for the allotted two weeks costs $310. However, donations of any size are welcome, and are greatly appreciated. All donations are tax-deductible.
SEND A KID TO CAMP SCOREBOARD:
In hand as of June 4: $38,637.30
Our goal as of 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.