Campers aren't the only ones who grow at summer camp. The counselors do, too. And so do those young men and women who exist somewhere betwixt and between: not quite camper, not quite counselor. They may grow most of all. My assistant, Julia Feldmeier, met a kid from Southern Maryland who has been changed by his experiences at Camp Moss Hollow.
In the world of s'mores, there are two camps of people. There are those who gently skewer their marshmallow over the fire until it's lightly toasted, cooking it to an even brown before sandwiching it between chocolate and graham cracker. And there are those such as Maurice Matthews, a 15-year-old who is less patient but equally passionate when it comes to s'mores, and who likes his marshmallows decidedly one way: burnt.
The gooey confections are just one of the things Maurice loves about Camp Moss Hollow, the camp near Markham, where the teenager is gearing up to spend his fifth summer. He loves going on hikes with his cabin, playing flag football, putting on skits -- in short, all of the things that involve spending time with campers and counselors. For Maurice, who lives with his mom and stepdad on a farm in La Plata, it's the people at Moss Hollow who make him so eager to return every summer.
Not that life on the farm doesn't keep him plenty busy. Able-bodied and athletic, he's responsible for feeding the animals -- cows, chickens, dogs, ducks and rabbits among them -- and tending to the garden. But the lack of peers within walking distance means Maurice depends mostly on his mom, who works full time as an assistant manager at the Safeway in La Plata, to chauffeur him to friends' houses.
"He's kind of solo by himself most of the time," said his mother, Paulette Savoy-Morgan.
Not so at Camp Moss Hollow. "I look forward to it to get away from the farm life, to get around other kids my age," Maurice said. "And I have a lot of fun there."
So much fun, in fact, that he now opts to spend the entire summer at camp -- eight weeks in all -- working as a leadership trainee, a program that grooms dedicated campers to become counselors. They live in cabins with campers and are supervised by counselors, but they're also charged with such entry-level jobs as assisting the grounds crew or kitchen staff. Usually, the camp requires that leadership trainees be at least 15. But Maurice earned the job last summer, when he was only 14.
"We don't normally take them that young," said Hope Asterilla, the camp's director, "but he was recommended by the staff because he has patience beyond his years with little children and showed initiative at camp." Plus, she said, "he called the [Family and Child Services] office incessantly to get an opportunity to speak with me and interview. He really, really wanted to work. He was very insistent and very clear that that was what he wanted to do."
That Maurice had the confidence to lobby for the position speaks to the empowering nature of Camp Moss Hollow and its staff. When Maurice first showed up at camp as an 11-year-old, he was noticeably shy.
"At first, if I didn't know somebody, then I didn't feel comfortable talking around them," he said, "but now even if I don't know them, I talk a lot more than I used to."
Said his mom, Paulette: "He's matured more since he's been going to that camp. At first he was more of a follower. Now he's stepping up to the plate to be a leader."
He doesn't have his own cabin of campers yet -- that won't happen until he's a counselor, for which he must be 19 -- but camp staffers already recognize him as a standout with the younger kids and enlist his help in supervising activities.
"The little kids just loved him," Hope Asterilla said. "He played games with them and never got angry or upset."
Ultimately, Maurice hopes to be a counselor for the youngest children, in the cabin he lived in when he first arrived as a camper. Who knows? Perhaps he'll teach some shy camper how to be more confident and more vocal. And, of course, how to roast a marshmallow, Maurice-style.
How You Can Help
You never know who is going to be helped by spending some time at Camp Moss Hollow, and you never know how.
Our goal is $650,000, money that will allow nearly a thousand at-risk kids to experience camp. Here's how you can make a tax-deductible contribution:
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 on the icon that says, "Make a Donation."
The Square Root of 12
It's John again, retaking control of the column. Every spring the refrigerator in our house sprouts an unusual growth: Next to the carryout menus and family calendar is something titled "Beatrice's Gift List."
Many of us agonize over what we want for our birthday. Not Beatrice. Long before the date in question, my younger daughter prepares a numbered list in glittery gel pen. It often runs to several pages, which she attaches to the icebox as boldly as Martin Luther nailed up his theses. The list ranges from the unlikely (iPod Mini, cell phone) to the grudgingly acceptable (funky nail polish).
Today Beatrice turns 12, so allow me to give her the one gift no one else can: Happy birthday, Bea.