And they say newspaper types are the ones to beware of. I'm a lot more worried about amateur psychologists.

"Tell the truth, Bob Levey," said a doubting Thomas on the phone one day last week. "You're raising all this money to send kids to camp because you had a bad experience at camp yourself. You're trying to inflict the same bad experience on some other poor kid."

As I told the skeptical caller, camp experiences are never uniformly good. But even bad camp experiences tend to have a silver lining. I told Doubting Thomas about some of my own.

For instance, the first overnight hike the first year I went. It never fails, does it? There you are, sleeping under the stars. Suddenly, a monsoon starts -- at 3 a.m., of course. The entire crew has 90 seconds to put up tents or it'll be Mildew City for the next three days.

You scramble around and somehow find the tent pegs with the help of a reluctant flashlight. You hold them while your buddy George pounds away at them with a mallet.

He mashes your fingers with every other stroke. But if you don't hang in there, or if he doesn't, you'll pay the price.

For another example, The Great Catch.

You're playing left field for the campers in the epic annual softball game against the counselors. Their dreaded cleanup hitter bashes one into the left-center field alley. You run for it, run, run -- and leap. Got it!

But just as you make the leap, you hear the seam in your shorts go ri-i-i-i-p.

Oh, no. She saw it -- the pretty girl in the neighboring bunk whom you've been eyeing all summer. Worse, she spends the rest of the game pointing at your very visible fissure and giggling.

But what's a dead pair of pants when the counselor-slugger says: "Nice one, Bob"?

Our Send a Kid to Camp campaign does not come with money-back guarantees. Maybe the kids we send to camp won't find the pegs in the rain. Maybe they'll never earn accolades that sit inside their heads for the next 40 years.

But they will grow in their own ways. They will have a chance to love nature, in many cases for the first time. They will write, direct and star in skits. They will help their bunk mates recover from homesickness. They will wake up in the morning and think, "Hey, I wonder what the adventures today will be."

When you make a contribution to our annual campaign, you are not only helping the neediest children in our community. You are providing the final link in a remarkable chain.

The money we raise comes from people who will probably never meet the campers they help. Yet they send thousands of checks to me because they believe that every child deserves what camp provides. It's an act of faith, an investment in the community. As long as I toot the camp horn, it never ceases to amaze me how willing Washingtonians are to help.

But now comes crunch time. We are far, far behind where I hoped we'd be at this point in July. We need to make the mailbox creak with envelopes. We need to come up with many, many dollars in the next few days.

I know it can happen, because it has happened before. I appeal to you to help it happen again.

To send one child to camp costs $300. However, gifts of any size are welcome, and all gifts are deductible on state and federal income taxes, as long as you itemize deductions. We also welcome gifts of foreign money, American pennies, stocks and bonds.

My letter-opener is poised. Please help us keep a local tradition humming. Many thanks.

Our Send a Kid to Camp campaign makes youngsters feel good every year. But it can also make Washington Post subscribers feel good, in unexpected ways.

"A much less cranky person" sent $50 the other day, along with a note. It said that writing the check had helped dull the pain she had accidentally inflicted on herself.

"It's Saturday, and I woke up cranky because there was no paper in my driveway," this reader wrote. Reason: She miscalculated how long she'd be gone on vacation, so she inadvertently canceled her paper one day too soon.

The only solution was to paw through the previous day's Post to see what she might have missed. "Your column popped out at me and finally I am sending some $," this reader wrote. She pronounced herself "much less cranky" for having read the column and responded to Levey's pleadings.

Thanks, Ms. Formerly Cranky, for your donation, and sorry for the damage to your stomach lining. Your gift, and all others, get us ever closer to our goal.

Our goal by July 30: $550,000.

In hand as of July 11: $225,649.52.

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.