Heading off to a week of sleep-away summer camp can be a daunting prospect, not just for the kids, but for their parents, too. Today my assistant, Alex MacCallum, reports on one first-time camping family:
When the kids in LaTreva Green and Angel King's Southwest Washington neighborhood go outside to play, they scatter around a hot, concrete courtyard enclosed by their families' rowhouses. With school out now, the kids have the whole humid summer ahead of them. A few weeks ago, a teenage girl passed the time riding a too-small bike in circles in one corner of the tiny space. In front of another house, a small boy raced around in a faded yellow-and-red Tyco mini-car.
Sisters LaTreva, 8, and Angel, 7, have spent every summer of their lives here. For fun, they play double Dutch outside with a telephone cord their father lets them borrow. To escape the oppressive summer heat, they dip into a small, inflatable pool behind their house. Or, as LaTreva puts it, "we get wet with the water hose."
This summer, the girls are preparing for quite a change of pace.
They'll swim in a sprawling pool, complete with a deep end and a lifeguard. They'll play outside on grassy fields instead of on concrete. They'll go canoeing for the first time in their lives, and they'll hike through winding trails in a secluded forest.
The girls, neither of whom has ever been to Camp Moss Hollow, are signed up for two sessions this summer.
Showing not one trace of impending homesickness or hesitation, LaTreva and Angel literally jump up and down with enthusiasm when camp activities are mentioned.
When their father, William King, told them he had read that there's dancing at camp, Angel immediately started swinging her skinny arms and moving to an inaudible beat.
"Watch out for her," William said. "She's going where the music's at. It can be the middle of the night and she'll get up and dance."
LaTreva, who is a majorette at school, is also ready to dance. She just learned a new parade routine. Showing it off, she clapped and stomped rhythmically, confident and smiling. "She's got a nickname -- diva of the school," her father said.
LaTreva and Angel heard about Camp Moss Hollow from LaTreva's best friend at Friendship Edison Public Charter School, Francis Jackson. Francis has gone to camp for the past two summers.
Francis's mother, Janice Daugherty, organized a group of six new campers to go to Moss Hollow. Some of the girls are the daughters of Janice's friends. Others, like LaTreva and Angel, are Francis's friends. To make sure the other children's parents meet all the registration deadlines, Janice checks in regularly.
"Ms. Daugherty's calling me 24/7 with the list of what they need, with appointments," William said.
The girls are well aware of every camp requirement, too. "They keep asking, 'Are we going to make the physical? Are we going to have everything?' " their father said. "The two of them, they've made us stay with the deadlines, so they won't miss anything."
As he spoke, the girls reminded their father that their required physical was scheduled for June 24. Yesterday, Janice drove the six soon-to-be campers to a clinic in Northwest Washington for free appointments arranged by Family and Child Services, the nonprofit outfit that runs the camp.
When William first heard about Camp Moss Hollow, he balked at the prospect of sending his daughters. "At first, I was hesitant because I wanted to get feedback, to ease my mind," he said. "Since September 11, I've been overprotective with them. I really don't want them out of my sight."
But Janice assured him that camp was safe. After he spoke with a few other friends who had sent their kids, William agreed to let the girls go.
Though he was initially nervous, King now is comfortable with the idea of camp. His daughters' excitement might be contagious.
"It's all they can talk about," he said.
"I'm going to go swimming," LaTreva said.
The minute she uttered the words, she and Angel stood up and made circles with their arms, showing off their freestyle in the living room air.
How to Help
The youngsters who go to Camp Moss Hollow don't have to go. They could stay in their comfort zone, though that comfort zone may strike us as less than ideal: a neighborhood with few prospects for summer fun.
Instead, they shake off their inertia; they take a chance. They realize that small acts -- boarding a bus to spend a week with friendly strangers -- can have big effects.
It's the same for us.
It would be great if every reader of The Post donated $590 to Send a Kid to Camp -- the cost to send one camper for a week -- but more modest gifts help us, too, and are just as welcome. Added up, they enable kids such as Angel and LaTreva to experience camp for the first time.
If you haven't donated before, I hope you'll start in this centennial year, the 100th anniversary of a Washington area camping program for at-risk kids.
So far, we've raised $167,193.55. We need to raise $750,000 by July 23. Here's how you can help:
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.