'Rub hard, John . . . . That's right! . . . . You're doing a good job, John . . . . You finished, John? . . . . Hey, it looks good, John . . . ."
It's a scene that's being played out in summer day camps all over the Washington area. The halting, underconfident youngster goes to arts and crafts on the first day of camp. He has never done anything artistic in his life. But when the counselor suggests that he use a brass rubbing kit to make a picture of a king, he shrugs and says okay.
The counselor stands beside him, gently urging him on. Neither expects much. But after a few minutes, there's the finished product, clear and sharp, on black construction paper, complete with a green frame.
The counselor tells the camper he can take it home. But the counselor is wasting her breath. The camper has already realized that and, obviously, he can hardly wait.
There was a slight twist to the plot, however, when this classic camper-counselor duet was played out last Monday on a field at Bolling Air Force Base.
Both camper and counselor were mentally handicapped.
The counselor was Germaine Payne, a 19-year-old from Northeast who is preparing for the athletic challenge of her life.
In two weeks, Germaine will go to South Bend, Ind., to compete in gymnastics at the International Summer Special Olympic Games. Germaine has been training for the Indiana games for almost four years. She stands a good chance of winning a medal in Indiana. Maybe it will be a gold one.
I've been following Germaine's progress in print for the last few months, as the trip grows closer. Now it has grown so close that Germaine says:
"I can almost feel it."
D.C. Special Olympics has given Germaine Payne a great deal since she joined the program. There have been free coaches. There have been free practice facilities. There have been free sodas, free rides, free tee-shirts, free prizes.
"So I thought I wanted to give something back," Germaine says.
Counseling severely retarded young adults like John McCall is the way Germaine has chosen.
The camp where she serves as a counselor is called S.O.FIT (the full-dress name is Special Olympics Fitness). All the counselors at the seven-week session are Special Olympians. Many of the campers are mentally handicapped, too, although some are not.
The seven counselors work 30 hours a week. They are paid $3.25 an hour. The funds are provided by the city's summer youth program.
S.O.FIT offers about as much variety as a day camp could. The 20 campers go to Fletcher's Boathouse in Georgetown one day a week for boating lessons. They go to Oxon Hill Farm in Prince George's County to learn about animals and nature. They go to a Kiwanis camp in Poolesville, Md., for overnight hikes.
But every Monday, they meet at Bolling, on a field behind the Youth Center, overlooking the Potomac River. There, as jets leaving National Airport screech and whine overhead, the S.O.FITters spend the day at kickball, basketball and crafts.
"Germaine is doing just fine as a counselor," said Victor Gordon, the director of the camp. "You can see she's really motivated. She really wanted to help somebody because Special Olympics did so much for her."
"I think it's helping me about Indiana, too," said Germaine. "Gettin' my mind off it, you know?"
The S.O.FIT campers range in age from 6 to 31. That means that about half the campers are older than Germaine. A problem?
"It's unusual," said Germaine. "But there haven't been any problems. You just treat them like adults."
You also learn to walk with your head high if you are mentally handicapped.
As the campers and counselors leave the Bolling Youth Center to go to arts and crafts class, they pass two truckloads of civilian construction workers. It takes a few seconds for the workmen to realize that most of the campers are handicapped. But as soon as the truth dawns, the workmen point at the campers and snicker at them.
Germaine quickens her step as she walks past them. It is her proud protest.
Miracles do not happen in a camp like S.O.FIT., either to campers or counselors. A July day beside the Potomac will not make handicaps go away. Neither will a brass rubbing of a king.
But for Germaine Payne, there is a lesson to learn when she puts on her orange counselor's tee-shirt and her blue Special Olympics baseball cap each morning. It's a lesson that's at least as important as any she has learned as a good-and-getting-better gymnast.
"I've been a counselor before," she says, as John McCall sits a few feet away, getting ready to try his hand at making a pink and white key chain. "But not at this camp."
She doesn't have to explain the difference.