Send a Kid to Camp is what we call our annual fund-raising drive on behalf of about 1,000 underprivileged children. But we might just as well call it Send Our Community a Message.

Each year, from early June to early August, Levey readers learn (and show) that Washington is not the uncaring place so many assume it is.

People who have never met a poor child, never set foot in a troubled neighborhood, never laid eyes on an adopted child or a foster child -- these people step up with thousands of dollars to make a child's summer better.

They buy into the central message of the Send a Kid to Camp campaign: that underwriting time in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains is not just a way to give a kid a treat, but a way to help a kid learn about life.

Former campers who are now in their thirties and forties will tell you that when they were about 10, their lives teetered on the edge. They lived in neighborhoods where drugs and crime were rampant. Their family situations were rickety and sometimes violent. Their schools were understaffed and under-equipped. It would have been easy to tip to the "bad side."

But camp helped these people understand not only how wonderful the outdoors can be, but how wonderful other humans can be.

One former camper says he had never worked successfully within a group before going to camp.

"I thought I was supposed to be a big tough guy with an attitude," says this man, who is now a mail carrier and the father of three children. "I thought it was weak to help someone, or to admit that I needed help myself."

But one night, on an overnight camping trip, it began to rain, as it always seems to do during overnights.

"I had to hold the pegs [for the tent] while my buddy pounded them in. If we hadn't done that quickly, we would have been soaked," the man says. "It sounds like nothing, but I remember that to this day."

Another camper, now 25, says she almost demanded to go home an hour after arriving at Camp Moss Hollow, in Markham, Va.

"They told me I couldn't watch my stories [soap operas]," the woman says. "I was a foster child, and every day after school, I'd watch my stories because they were more of a family to me than my real family.

"I didn't think I could make it without watching. But the counselors taught me how to use clay to make pots. And then I went swimming. I didn't even realize what kind of a shell I was living in.

"I'm not going to lie and say I never watched my stories again. But I didn't depend on them the same way I did. Camp taught me that new things are good, not scary."

This is the 18th consecutive summer I've been at the helm of the Send a Kid to Camp campaign. You readers have responded beautifully to my constant pleading. We have raised more than $4.5 million over the years -- truly a terrific total.

This year, Send a Kid to Camp is aiming for $550,000. If we get there, or close, we will have set a record for the seventh time during the 1990s.

I'm hoping the records continue, and I'm hoping that our economic good times will help that happen.

If you've gotten a raise, a bonus, a promotion or a windfall, why not share some of it with kids who need help?

If your stock portfolio has fattened lately, why not share the wealth?

If you have gotten a birthday gift and it's more than you really need, why not shear off a piece and send it where you know it'll do some lasting good?

Please remember that every gift will be acknowledged and that every gift is deductible on federal and state income tax returns as long as you itemize deductions. And don't forget that we welcome U.S. coins, as well as foreign bills and coins from any country in the world.

If you have read the foregoing and you still reside on the fence, perhaps this thought will nudge you off:

We were all kids once. We all got help, from seen and unseen hands. These days, some of our most troubled kids need big doses of help.

You can vote for the community's future by contributing to Send a Kid to Camp. In the bargain, you can put a smile on a face that might not bear one very often, if at all. Thanks in advance for your support.

Our goal by July 30: $550,000.

In hand as of June 9: $27,714.45.

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.