Simple pleasures that many people take for granted -- going on a hike, going to a restaurant -- can be exotic and unknown if you grow up in a poor, dysfunctional family. But if you're lucky enough to spend time at Camp Moss Hollow, your eyes can be opened to another kind of life. My assistant, Julia Feldmeier, has the story of a man who's been doing just that for two decades.
Every year around April, when the air warms up and birds begin chirping, Robert "Turbo" Brown starts humming. Maybe it's a tune from Luther Vandross, his hero, or another R&B legend. Or maybe it's the beat to Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover," a song that Turbo rewrote to fit his own passion: working at Camp Moss Hollow.
He calls it "Part-Time Counselor," and the lyrics go something like this:
Would you like to be a part-time counselor?/We'll go on long hikes and trips to 7-Eleven/The kids will always have you on the run/But at the end of the day, when it's all over/They'll come back for more big fun/Do you still want to be a part-time counselor?
For Turbo, the answer is always yes. The 41-year-old school bus driver has been a counselor at Camp Moss Hollow since 1983 -- and he, too, returns summer after summer for "more big fun."
There are lots of things that lure him back: the mountain air, the beautiful landscape, his fellow staffers, who hail from faraway places such as Europe and South Africa. But Turbo says most of his fun is centered on one thing: the kids.
"When the campers enjoy themselves, and you see that they enjoy themselves, that's all that really matters," he said. "When you see that smile on their face, it makes it all worthwhile."
Turbo is constantly thinking up new ways to entertain them. He's the brain behind "football-basketball," a popular game among campers that involves shooting a football through the basketball hoop (no easy feat, according to Turbo). He's got plans underway for "Derby Nights," where campers -- outfitted with their own toy wooden race carts -- will race against each other until one is crowned Derby King (or Queen). Plus, the carts will be theirs to keep.
"That's the kind of stuff I think about doing, something better than last year," Turbo said. "Something they can take home with them."
That's one of the important parts of the job: making sure the campers have something to take home. Maybe it's something tangible, like a derby car or an arts-and-crafts project. Or maybe it's a nickname. Turbo picked up his moniker on his first day as a counselor back in 1983 when he dazzled his fellow staffers on the basketball court with his quick moves.
"They said, 'Man, we're gonna call you Turbo,' because of the speed I had," he said. "Little by little, everybody just started calling me Turbo."
(Lately, Turbo says, campers have pared the name down to "T." "I lost all my speed, so just the T is left," he joked.)
But the best camp souvenirs, naturally, are the memories. Sometimes the memories are intrinsic to camp and nature. Who can forget Rudy, the fox that hangs around camp, or the legendary bear cub that campers spotted on a hike a few years back? Or the daddy longlegs that, according to Turbo, everybody seems to be scared of?
"It's funny," Turbo said. "They see them and they start howling. But they don't hurt you." He said he tries to teach the kids to respect nature (that is, not to squash the daddy longlegs when they see them) and in turn, "they learn to respect life."
There are more glamorous memories, too, that Turbo helps create, most notably, the dinner theater he organizes every year. The kitchen staff whips up special desserts, and the dining hall -- replete with tablecloths, candles, flowers and fancily folded napkins -- is transformed into a restaurant. And there's musical entertainment, starring Turbo. (In a tuxedo!) Budding starlets from camp, meanwhile, perform the opening acts.
"Some kids might not get a chance to go out to a really nice restaurant," Turbo said. "It's nice for them to go to a show."
And it's another good tale to tell at the end of the week, when the kids are back home, reliving their Moss Hollow experience.
"Everybody has their own stories," Turbo said. "It's something special."
The Name Game
Now seems a good time to make something clear: Family and Child Services Inc. -- the nonprofit outfit that runs Camp Moss Hollow -- has nothing to do with the District government.
There is a once-troubled D.C. department with the confusingly similar name of the Child and Family Services Agency. But Family and Child Services has nothing to do with Child and Family Services.
Nor does Family and Child Services have anything to do with the city-run summer camp you may have read about recently at which abuse took place.
Family and Child Services has been a leading charity in Washington for more than 100 years. And Camp Moss Hollow has successfully gone through the rigorous accreditation process conducted by the American Camp Association.
Our goal this year is $650,000. So far, we've raised $18,457.60. 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."