One morning a few weekends ago, I got up early and drove out I-66 to Fauquier County. I'd packed some tools in the back of the van and was ready to do some work. I thought I would pitch in as Boy Scouts from the Washington area got Camp Moss Hollow ready for another summer.
For the past few years, scouts from the Old Dominion District have helped shake the summer camp for at-risk kids out of its off-season doldrums. It's part of an initiation for something called the Order of the Arrow, a scouting honor society whose motto is "cheerful service."
The cheerful service this year included clearing rocks and brush, sweeping out cabins, assembling new beds and disinfecting mattresses.
When I arrived at Camp Moss Hollow, I discovered that not only wasn't my help needed, it wasn't allowed.
As part of their initiation, the roughly three dozen Order of the Arrow scouts-in-training were performing the work themselves without adult help -- and without talking!
This made the atmosphere at Moss Hollow rather different from what it will be when it opens in a few weeks -- when excited shouts and cries of laughter will split the cool country air. But there was something reverent about it, too. The scouts had slept under the stars, eaten a light breakfast and now were hard at work.
Steve Huether, a 15-year-old from Fairfax Station, was leading a bunch of scouts as they spread mulch around obstacle courses, the idea being to soften the fall of any camper who might take a tumble from the ropes course or tire swing.
As a full-fledged Order of the Arrow member and leader of the group, Steve was allowed to speak.
"Our job is to provide a really nice environment for these campers," he said, "to make it a nice and fun place, so they can have as much fun at this camp as we do at the camp we go to."
Steve knew a little about the kids who will be at the camp, which is run by the private charity Family and Child Services of Washington.
"Where they live, they don't have nice woods, with trees and grass," he said. "For them to be able to come to this camp, it's a great opportunity."
Steve didn't say it, but it was a great opportunity for the Boy Scouts who went out to Camp Moss Hollow, too. They were doing the quintessential good deed: helping someone they'd never meet because it was the right thing to do.
You have that opportunity, too. For more than 20 years, readers of The Washington Post have supported Camp Moss Hollow. Today we begin this year's campaign. Our goal: to raise $650,000 between now and July 27.
I'll be honest with you: Last year we didn't reach our goal, but we raised a still-respectable $608,428.77. Can we do better this year?
Well, to paraphrase President John Kennedy, we do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
And because it is important. Camp Moss Hollow takes kids ages 7 to 14 -- mainly from the District but also from Maryland and Virginia. These are children who otherwise might be spending a long, hot summer on some of our area's most troubled streets.
What do they do at camp? The same things you probably did at camp: go on hikes, swim in the pool, paddle a canoe, make crafts, sing songs, act in skits, roast marshmallows.
Most importantly for these kids, they do it away from the desperate environment that many of them are accustomed to. It's a chance, quite literally, to leave their problems behind.
I left Moss Hollow after a hot dog lunch. As the Boy Scouts went off to tackle their afternoon chores, I asked Jeff Morrow if he ever thought about the kids who were going to benefit from his hard work.
Yes, he said.
"Sometimes I imagine them having fun playing on the basketball court, or eating" in the dining hall, said the Lorton 15-year-old. "It seems like a pretty fun place, if you ask me. The more we can help out, the better."
How to Help
And the more you can help out, the better.
The cost to send one child to camp for one week is $590. But we will gladly accept donations that are smaller (or larger). All deductions are tax deductible.
Last year, when I did this for the first time, a few readers called to ask why the camp was so "expensive." Their own kids went to sleep-away camps that cost less, they said.
One reason is that Moss Hollow gets no subsidies from any other group, not the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts or any other organization. And the entire budget for the camping program comes from Washington Post readers.
Here's how you can make a tax-deductible donation:
Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Family and Child Services, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. Click where it says, "Make a donation."
Squid Pro Quo
Another way to donate: For the next eight Wednesdays, McCormick & Schmick's and M&S Grill restaurants are donating proceeds from a special menu item to our Send a Kid to Camp campaign. Just order, eat it and we get the cash. Today it's the fried calamari appetizer at McCormick & Schmick's and parmesan-sprinkled calamari with marinara sauce at M&S Grill.
Reach me: email@example.com, or 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.