For Eddie Jackson, summer camp along the cool Chesapeake Bay is an annual week-long retreat from the noisy streets of downtown Alexandria.
"You find a lot of trouble in the city, always arguing and fights," the round-faced, bronze-skinned boy said. "In the country, it's real peaceful. It seems cleaner here. I'm glad I'm away from the city."
The spartan but lively setting is Camp Grimm, a 20-year-old tradition started by the Alexandria Police Department and since supported with the help of community groups in the city. Any 8- to 12-year-old boy or girl in Alexandria can spend a week at the 97-acre site in the Tidewater area of Virginia, some 150 miles southeast of their homes, for a fee of $10.
The result of the open-door entry policy is a melting pot of participants who come together to share activities and sports competition centered around an Indian theme. Fifteen counselors and several police officers on paid leave divide the campers into "Apaches" and "Cherokees," keeping running scores on everything from cabin cleanliness to who can scream the loudest at the camp sing.
"We keep their interest by making one side compete against the other," explained Randy Benarick, a former police officer and camp director who returns each summer to help out. The presence of police officers, acting in skits or playing ball, is designed to give kids a healthy view of law enforcement, Benarick said.
The current director, Kevin Brown, is on leave from his midnight-shift police duties for the eight week-long camp sessions. "It's a lot of responsibility," he said. "But most of the guys (at the department) think it's just a vacation."
As the male campers belted out a favorite -- "Here we sit like birds in the wilderness, waiting for the girls to come" -- it was clear that keeping 66 boys and girls happy and busy was no simple task. Brown planned a minute-by-minute schedule of activities including swimming, crabbing (the campers' first choice), rowboating, archery and arts and crafts.
The first night away from home featured a bayside Indian ceremony and campfire, complete with costumed counselors arriving by canoe with lighted torches. Yells of "Wakanda" in the dark spurred a scary and magical lighting of the campfire (actually a well-orchestrated trick by the resident police officers).
By 10 p.m., campers had returned to their spartan cabins, brightened by belongings from home. Two campers received "house calls" from the camp paramedic, who offered ice packs and tender loving care for bumps received earlier during an afternoon swim. Blaine D'Amico, who donned a single red feather and played the part of "medicine man," was on leave from the Alexandria Department of Public Safety for the week.
"I'm finding out all sorts of things I didn't know because here I get to treat a little bit of everything," D'Amico said.
Counselor Kimberly Newman said she gained a lot from the camp experience, too. "You learn a lot from it, like how to pay more attention," Newman said. "When they don't understand something I try to explain it, because at home their parents are often in a rush."