Who is helped by your contribution to our Send a Kid to Camp campaign? Children such as those you'll meet today -- and the relatives and caregivers who are trying to make a difference in their lives. My assistant, Alex MacCallum, reports on two sisters who look forward to returning to Camp Moss Hollow:
When Jerrika Brown-McDaniel was 3, the deafening sound of gunfire pulled her and her younger sister, Jerria, away from the cartoons they'd been watching in their living room. They rushed to the front door of their house on 16th Street NE to find that their father, Jerry McDaniel, had been shot dead.
Their father's death left them in the sole care of their drug-addicted mother.
On her watch, the girls experienced five years of life without structure. They constantly missed school, played outside instead of doing their homework and were allowed to do almost anything they wanted. Jerrika was held back in school twice, while the baby of the family, Jerria, assumed the role of mother figure.
In March 1999, when Jerrika was 8, their mother was arrested on a charge of forging a check and attempting to cash it. She skipped bail and worked for two years under an assumed name. In the meantime, a judge awarded custody of the girls to their grandmother, Joan Bullock.
"I told the judge and I told my daughter. I said, 'You have five years to get straightened out.' I told her, 'After that, you're going to have to take them, because I'm tired and my husband is tired,' " said Mrs. Bullock, 65.
Mrs. Bullock had already taken in her daughter's son from her first marriage, Charles Mapp, when he was 2, and she had set similar conditions then: Her daughter had five years to clean up her act. Then she would have to take Charles or send him into foster care.
"That five years never came. He's 20. He's still here," Mrs. Bullock said.
For the two years the girls' mother held down a job under an assumed name, she constantly assured her own concerned mother that she was a "functioning" addict.
But her mother would have none of it. "I told her, 'There's no such thing as a functioning addict. You're a drug addict, or you're off,' " Mrs. Bullock said.
In 2001, Mrs. Bullock said, Jerrika and Jerria's mother was arrested again. She served 21 months in prison. Since her release, she has struggled with her drug addiction and hasn't been able to care for her daughters.
The girls -- now 13 and 10 -- have thrived at their grandmother's home in Upper Marlboro. In their highly structured days, there is no time for TV and no time for "yick-yacking," as Mrs. Bullock refers to it. For the last five years, their step-grandfather has helped Jerria with her homework while Mrs. Bullock has worked with Jerrika. During that time, both girls have missed only one day of school each.
If she were a foster parent, Mrs. Bullock would receive financial help from the state for each girl. But because she is a relative, she has to support them with the tiny pension from her career as a teacher's aide in Prince George's County. Both kids receive a monthly stipend because their father was in the military, but the money is not nearly enough to support them.
"It's been a hardship, but we've managed. I'm from the old school," said Mrs. Bullock. "Whatever it takes, I give them." Luckily for her and for them, the girls will be able to go to Camp Moss Hollow this summer for three sessions each.
Camp gives Mrs. Bullock, who is in poor health, a few weeks of much-needed respite. She has had several surgeries and treatments over the last year for her back, her shoulders and her hands. And in January, she had a stroke. Now, even helping the girls with their hair hurts her fragile fingers.
March marked the end of the five-year time limit Mrs. Bullock had set for her daughter. "She has to come back and take responsibility for her kids -- to be a mother again. She's been clouded from them drugs for too many years," she said.
She said she is giving her daughter until the first of the year to take the girls, and then they will go into foster care if their mother is not ready to care for them.
In the meantime, the girls are looking forward to camp. Jerrika has gone every summer since she was 7, Jerria since she was 6. Both girls can't wait to practice their basketball skills -- they both would like to play for the WNBA one day. Peering through her wire-rimmed glasses, Jerria shyly told of her ability to dunk "if the basket isn't too high." Jerrika loves the camp cook, Mrs. Wiggins, and sometimes helps out in the kitchen.
"When they come home between sessions, they start getting antsy," Mrs. Bullock said. "Jerrika is always ready to go back. Jerria likes to hang around grown folks more, but she likes being around kids her own age when she's at camp."
How to Help
Our Send a Kid to Camp campaign is just a few days old and we're off to a great start. We need to raise $750,000 by July 23 to support summer activities at Camp Moss Hollow. As of yesterday, Washington Post readers had donated $63,054.41.
Here's how you can contribute: Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to: Attention, Lockbox, Department 0500, Washington, D.C. 20073-0500.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/camp. Click on the icon that says, "Make Your Tax-Deductible Donation."
To contribute by phone with Visa or MasterCard, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in KIDS, or 5437, and follow the instructions.