Each summer, our Send a Kid to Camp fund-raising campaign helps needy children in the Washington area go to summer camp. My associate, Suzannah Gonzales, interviewed a teenager last week who lives 40 miles west of Washington. He will go to camp in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in a few days. He could never go without financial help. Suzannah's report:

For 14-year-old Matthew Bethel, Warrenton is a slow place in the summertime.

In his rural Fauquier County home town, "everybody knows everybody," Matthew said. He lives next door to a farm supply store. Along his street, a sidewalk is being constructed for the first time.

Instead of "just laying around, watching TV, playing some video games" during the summer, Matthew goes to Camp Moss Hollow, in nearby Markham. This will be his sixth consecutive summer as a Moss Hollow camper.

"I don't go outside a lot [in Warrenton] because there's not many people around here," Matthew said. "It gets kinda lonely here and [there's] not much to do. Things are really low pace down here."

However, "[camp] keeps you busy," Matthew said.

"We live in a small town," explained Matthew's 53-year-old great-aunt and legal guardian, who asked that her name not be published.

"There are no swimming pools here for Matthew. That's why all his swimming has been done at camp."

In previous summers at Moss Hollow, Matthew learned to swim, even though he used to hate the water, his great-aunt said. He also acquired a taste for grits.

The food at camp is "like homemade stuff, not all that artificial stuff," Matthew said. Besides, camp gives him "a change of schedule," and he likes that, he said.

This year at Camp Moss Hollow, Matthew wants to swim, play sports, hike, "make as many friends as possible, get to know different people" and try "new things I've never done before."

"All the things that he has learned mostly, he's learned from me -- school, camping," his great-aunt said.

Matthew's favorite year at Moss Hollow was last year, he said. He remembers spending nights talking and sleeping around a campfire.

Although he said he usually misses home the first day at camp, "I quickly get over it," Matthew said.

"He needs a break and I need a break," his great-aunt said. "Camp is freedom to be yourself, to enjoy the company of his peers and to take directions and instructions and rules from someone other than your mom," she said.

His great-aunt has raised Matthew since his mother died when he was 3. The two live in the Warrenton home where Matthew's great-aunt grew up. She runs a day-care center there.

Matthew, who calls his great-aunt "Mom," just completed the eighth grade at W.C. Taylor Middle School, where he was on the honor roll and football team. He will be a freshman at Fauquier High School in the fall.

Because he receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Medicaid, Matthew is eligible to attend Moss Hollow. His great-aunt said she wouldn't have been able to send Matthew to camp if it weren't for the scholarships he receives. The bulk of that scholarship money comes from the Send a Kid to Camp program.

After being a camper for several summers, Matthew said, he now aspires to be a counselor. Next summer, he plans to enroll in a counselor-in-training course at another summer camp.

"[Camp counselors] are real friendly. They'll support you all the way through. They're not uptight, they're kinda low pace. They like to talk a lot," he said.

As one of the oldest campers at Moss Hollow this summer (campers range in age from 7 to 14), Matthew hopes he'll be a role model for younger campers.

He recalled a time two summers ago when he was captain of a kickball team at Moss Hollow. One camper couldn't kick the ball far and the camper's teammates got mad at him. The child got frustrated.

"I kinda helped him out and calmed him down and tried to tell him that it was okay, that he'll try to do better next time," Matthew recalled.

He said he likes to help other campers when they have difficulty with activities. "It kinda makes me feel good," he said.

goal by July 30: $550,000.

In hand as of June 26: $131,937.32.


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.


Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.