The school nurse's office is not usually the place you want to find yourself when you're a kid. But just about every student who walked through nurse Rita Bullock's door at Abram Simon Elementary School in Southeast Washington last Thursday was wearing a huge smile.
What they weren't wearing were shoes. Marsha Walker, a 9-year-old in an outfit assembled mainly from the pink end of the color spectrum, had removed hers. She trotted over to a scale to be weighed, then stood still as her height -- her shoeless height -- was measured. Then she sat down while Nurse Bullock wrapped her arm in a blood pressure cuff. As each entry was inked onto an ivory-colored sheet of paper, Marsha was one step closer to the thing that was making her smile: summer camp.
Thursday was camp medical form day at Simon Elementary, the result of a wonderful partnership between the school and Washington Hebrew Congregation. For 10 years, volunteers from the area's largest Reform congregation have been helping out at Abram Simon, a school named for an early D.C. education activist and Washington Hebrew's second rabbi.
Last year, two Washington Hebrew members, Daniel Schoenfeld and Ellen Oshinsky, asked that gifts in honor of their bar and bat mitzvahs be used to help send Simon students to Camp Moss Hollow. More than $10,000 was raised, and 43 Simon students went to camp.
"Both of them go to overnight camps," said Daniel's mother, Nancy, who was helping wrangle kids and forms, along with Ellen's mom, Elissa. "They wanted to give these kids the opportunity to go."
Anyone who has sent a kid on any sort of outing knows what a pain in the neck those forms can be. Because the volunteers from Washington Hebrew didn't want anything to stand in the way of a kid going to camp, they'd brought along their own doctor, pediatrician Paul Weiner.
"I'm off on Thursdays, so I just came down," said the suitably stethescoped Dr. Weiner. (Wait a minute. Shouldn't he be golfing?)
After Nurse Bullock checked the kids' blood pressure, they were ushered behind a white screen for a very quick medical checkup. Before long there was a bit of a backup, as sock-clad kids waited their turns, a perfect opportunity to talk camp.
I asked Marsha what she did at camp last year.
"We went swimming," she started, "and we had lunch, then we had dinner. We had a dance on the last day. We did arts and crafts. We made pictures and books. We had comfortable beds. We went fishing and walked to the river. We went canoeing. We went swimming at night. There was a snake in front of the girls' bathroom."
I was exhausted just listening to her.
Don Whitaker, 9, said he liked diving into the pool for nickels and quarters that had been tossed in by the counselors. He, too, was impressed by a snake that he saw.
"The snake was this skinny," Don said, curling his fingers to denote the reptile's minimal girth. "And this long," he said, spreading his arms to a distance that, given the snake's width, left no doubt that this was one long, skinny snake.
Diamond Williams, 9, said she hadn't been sure what to expect before she went to camp for the first time last summer. "I thought it was going to be a big, tall building," said Diamond, who wore a pink T-shirt airbrushed with her nickname: Dime. "I didn't know it was going to be by the woods."
Diamond had some advice for first-time campers: "Don't be scared to do new things or go new places. Just be yourself."
The Washington Hebrew volunteers help pick the kids who go to camp.
"It's not just the top achievers," Nancy said. "We wanted ones who would really benefit from it, to give some of those who don't always get the positive opportunities a chance."
Ten-year-old Jasmine Lee -- three strands of Mardi Gras beads around her neck -- said she wasn't lonely, homesick or scared at camp last year. She was in a cabin called Boxwood, where she learned a song that she sang for me:
"Once I was a caterpillar/Now I am a butterfly/Been transformed/Been reborn/Moss Hollow is the reason why.
"There comes a time in life when you have to make a change/Moss Hollow made a difference to me, and in you it will do the same."
"She's going to be the next American Idol," Dr. Weiner said.
Her medical form filled out, her song sung, her entire being looking forward to camp, Jasmine put on her shoes and went back to class.
That nurse's office was a nice place to be, filled as it was with gleeful anticipation. Only one boy wasn't smiling. He wasn't on the list to go to camp, and he stopped by every 30 minutes or so, as if hoping to cadge a vicarious thrill from the kids who were talking about swimming and snakes.
Our Send a Kid to Camp campaign needs to raise $750,000 by July 23 to support summer activities at Camp Moss Hollow. As of yesterday, Washington Post readers had donated $87,020.81.
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.
I'm reachable in oh-so-many ways: firstname.lastname@example.org; 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; 202-334-5129.