For some children, our Send a Kid to Camp fund-raising campaign offers a break from squalid neighborhoods and tangled family situations. But for others, camp is a way to forget lingering personal health problems. My associate, Suzannah Gonzales, interviewed a Northeast Washington boy last week who is only now well enough to go to camp this summer, after six months of recuperation. Her report:
It has been a difficult year for 11-year-old Mychael Doss.
Last November, Mychael contracted a severe stomach virus. He suffered regularly from vomiting and diarrhea, especially at night, and he had trouble sleeping. The cause of the illness is still unknown. It also affected 60 of Mychael's classmates.
According to his mother, Denise, Mychael had the worst case in the class. He was unable to attend school for about six months. Instead, he stayed at home in Northeast Washington and received instruction.
In April, Mychael was able to return to Edison-Friendship Public Charter School, also in Northeast Washington. He resumed his favorite sports in gym class (football and foursquare), and he graduated last month from the fifth grade.
While he was sick, however, Mychael said he had only enough energy to draw, watch movies and play video games. His mother believes that his illness left him introverted and with low self-esteem. Mychael said his illness made him sad, frustrated and sometimes bored.
"I couldn't go outside to do the things that I used to do," he said. "I couldn't go outside, go swimming, anything." Besides, "I missed my friends" at school.
This summer, Mychael will have the chance to play outside again. He will leave home for the first time since he got sick -- with a sleeping bag he received as a graduation present -- and head for Camp Moss Hollow, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, near Markham, Va.
Mychael attended Moss Hollow in 1996 and in 1997. He won an award for excellence in outdoor camping, but he couldn't go to camp last year because he had to attend summer school.
"He was sullen, sad," his mother said.
At camp this year, Mychael said, he wants to concentrate on swimming, hiking, basketball and other games. He also hopes to do arts and crafts. He said he can't wait to meet new friends, roast marshmallows and sleep on a top bunk.
Mychael said he's excited to do these things " 'cause I couldn't do [them] when I was ill."
He promised that he won't miss home while he's at camp, because camp is "what I use to get away from home." Mychael aspires to be an architectural engineer "so I can build buildings."
He seemed eager to take a break from his mother (he said she "talks too much") and from his 18-year-old sister, Shonzia Arrington, who also lives in Northeast Washington. Denise said Shonzia often picks on Mychael. "It's always fun to get away from my mom and my sister," he said.
The family has long experience with serious illness. Denise said she has "multiple disabilities" as a result of an injury she suffered in January 1991. She was hit by a fire door that swung open at Langley Junior High School, where she was a teacher.
Denise did not teach for about three years after the accident. She is still somewhat affected, and Mychael said he loves "to take care of her and help her do things." But he admitted that it will be nice to have a break and not have to care for her during the week he's at camp.
"She can do the things she wants to do, and I can do the things I want to do," he said.
Denise returned to teaching in the late fall of 1994 and continued until March 1996. However, she has not worked since, and she is currently trying to obtain teachers' disability retirement.
She receives Aid to Families With Dependent Children/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Her monthly income is $379. She receives an additional $232 a month in food stamps. She is divorced, and her former husband does not contribute to either Mychael's or her support.
"Without that camp, I don't know what I would do," Denise said. "He [Mychael] wouldn't get a chance to get away from Washington, D.C., to participate in the many activities that bring about a growth in his education."
Our goal by July 30: $550,000.
In hand as of July 2: $173,038.01.
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.
BY 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.