Each summer, our Send a Kid to Camp fund-raising campaign sends hundreds of underprivileged children to a sleep-away camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many campers come from tough parts of town. My associate, Suzannah Gonzales, has the story of two brothers who look forward to camp -- and to getting away from home. Her report:
The parking lot outside Kim Thomas's apartment building in Southeast Washington is full of children as well as cars.
Children are rollerblading, boxing, talking and screaming. Kim, a 32-year-old mother of five, said she feels sorry for them. Most have no guidance, she said.
"I don't like this parking lot as a playground," she said. So when her sons, Percy, 7, and William, 9; stepsons, Kyle Barbee, 9, and Marc Barbee Jr., 10; and 13-year-old daughter, Marcia, play in the lot, Kim watches them closely from her third-floor apartment window.
She said she tries to provide a close-knit family life for her children. "I try to keep that bond between them," she said.
Other children who live in the apartment complex seem to crave what Kim's children have. They often run up to the gray family minivan as Kim's children get in and ask, "Miss Kim, can we go, too?"
She plans family outings, invents games they can play together and videotapes her children as they sing, dance and do cartwheels and back flips in the park.
Next month, she is sending Percy and William to Camp Moss Hollow.
"I thought it was a good thing to do, something to keep them occupied and busy during the summer and not to have too much free time on their hands," Kim said. "I always try to find something for them to do during the summer."
Percy, Marc Jr., Kyle and Marcia went to Moss Hollow last summer. Marcia is now too old to attend. Kyle and Marc Jr. are going to summer school instead, and are disappointed not to be returning to camp, according to Kim.
This will be William's first time at Moss Hollow. When Percy went last year, he especially liked swimming, the carnival and "the treats that they had," such as ice cream, he said. But Percy admitted that he missed his mother, and "all those gnats was gettin' in my eyes and my mouth.
"If there were no gnats, we'd have a great time," he said.
William is looking forward to playing sports. Although he said he's not scared to be away from home, he said that, like Percy, he will probably miss his family.
Despite her sons' homesickness, Kim said she knows her children will enjoy going to camp. She said they came back last year singing songs they learned, and proudly showed her the tie-dyed shirts and key chains they had made.
Also, "they know that if they don't do well in school during the school year, you have to go to school in the summer," Kim said. "They work really hard in school. They really want to go back. That shows you they have some incentive."
Kim tries hard to expose her children to different cultures and environments, including "the good and the bad, so they can know the difference. I try to feed their brains," she said.
"A lot of negative stuff happens here. We got a lot of free time on our hands, not doing anything constructive," she explained.
"If you don't do anything constructive, you're going to find something destructive to do. So I try to find something constructive for them."
After Kim gets married on June 25 to Marc Barbee, the father of Marc Jr. and Kyle, the family will move to Maryland because Kim thinks it will be a better environment for her children.
Kim currently receives $463 a month in unemployment and is looking for work. She plans to return to school after the wedding and the family's move. Marc Sr. assists the family financially.
While her children are away this summer, Kim will be planning what they're going to do when they return. She also plans to relax.
"I think I deserve it," she said. "Five kids here, I think I deserve a break."
As for Percy and William, Kim said camp will "encourage them and inspire them to do well in school, just keep their heads focused on positive things."
Our goal by July 30: $550,000.
In hand as of June 6: $22,659.85.
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.
VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.