How does your money help kids go to Camp Moss Hollow? It allows those who can't pay the full cost to still participate. My assistant, Julia Feldmeier, met one District grandmother who sees the value in camp.
As Tyrone Smith gets older and wiser, he gets richer. For a good report card, he usually gets $25 from his grandmother, Joan Smith, as a way to reinforce that "there's nothing wrong with being smart," she said. She also usually doles out a couple of sawbucks for his birthday -- a perk of being the youngest grandchild.
But Tyrone never got his money this year, despite making the honor roll and celebrating his 11th birthday July 1. Did he do something to disappoint his grandmother?
Nope. Instead, she gave him a far richer present: two sessions at Camp Moss Hollow. "I decided to be more constructive and used that money for camp," she said. "That was his birthday gift from me."
Because camp tuition is based on a sliding scale according to income, it costs Joan, who receives Social Security disability, $40 to send Tyrone to Moss Hollow for one week. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to send him," she said.
Camp was a gift Joan coveted as a child but never received. "I always wanted to go to camp, but I wasn't allowed to go," she said.
Instead, her parents packed her off to Lynchburg, Va., where she stayed with her aunt for the whole summer. "The day school was out, we left," she recalled.
Tyrone has a similar deal: He lives with Joan for the summer at her home in Southeast Washington. But there he has none of the experiences that Moss Hollow offers its campers.
At 61, Joan is a no-nonsense grandmother with rigid rules about parenting. She said when she was raising her children, "My mother told me, 'Keep them busy.' Keep them busy, and you won't see this on-the-corner thing going on. They're so tired when they come home, they just eat their dinner, do their homework and go right to bed." That way, "it ain't all about hanging on the corners and doing illegal stuff."
There's hardly time for trouble at Moss Hollow. A sample itinerary from Tyrone's first week at camp includes breakfast, cleanup and first cabin inspection from 8 to 10 a.m., instructional swim from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., then lunch and quiet time, followed by flag football, crafts, "mental olympics" (board games and academic games), dinner, basketball, night swim and a snack. Lights out is at 11 p.m.
Though camp might be a blur of games and workshops, the campers aren't lost in the shuffle. Instead, "it seems like the counselors make the children feel like they are really, really worthy," Joan said. They reward accomplishments as seemingly minute as participation, to reinforce that "when you participate in things, you are contributing -- and your participation is not going unnoticed," she added. "All of that is part of self-esteem to me."
Take Tyrone, who netted the Most Valuable Player award at camp two weeks ago. When they called out his name, "I thought, 'This is my favorite time in my life,' " Tyrone said.
"His chest just puffed out," Joan said.
Joan believes camp was worth every penny she saved to send Tyrone there. Ultimately, she got a lot for her money: Her grandson not only "had a ball," she said, he also gained the kind of pride and self-confidence that will help keep him on the straight and narrow -- and off the city streets.
"My parents didn't allow me to hang out on street corners. I didn't allow my son to hang out on street corners," Joan said. And Tyrone won't be hanging out on street corners, either.
His grandmother has too much invested in him to let that happen.
$100 Here, $100 There; Soon: Real Money
Patricia Totten of Dunkirk was following this year's excruciatingly slow Send a Kid to Camp fund drive and had reached a conclusion: We're way too far behind to reach our $650,000 goal.
Then she remembered something her father had said: When everyone pitches in a little bit, big things can get done.
"If 50 people would give $1,000, that would be $50,000," Pat reasoned in an e-mail to me. "Still not nearly enough. . . . Besides, $1,000 is an impossible amount for many."
Five hundred people giving $100, though, is more doable, she thought.
Then Pat made a leap: "If 5,000 people gave $100 that would be $500,000 and the goal would be more than met! Now $100 is still a large amount for many, but it's only a good bottle of wine at a fine restaurant for a lot of D.C. folks. . . . Aren't there 5,000 people out there who would give $100?"
To anyone who's reading, Pat has this request: "Get up from the table and get out the checkbook. Pick up your phone or get online and make that donation now. In just minutes you will have added one individual to that 5,000-person journey. The next time you read the words 'Camp Moss Hollow' they will bring a smile to your face instead of a nagging sigh."
I couldn't say it better myself. Our total as of 5 p.m. yesterday was $216,190.99. Here's how to 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."
To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.
And, for the record, Pat donated $200.