Who are the 1,200 children who will spend two weeks in the country this summer as part of our Send a Kid to Camp program? They are all kinds -- black and white, urban and suburban, male and female, third-graders and teen-agers. But the one thing all 1,200 campers share is a troubled past. My associate Amy Simmons visited with two 1987 campers last week who have had more than their share of difficulties. Amy's report:

We are sitting in the visitors' room at the headquarters of Family and Child Services, the social welfare agency that runs the Send a Kid to Camp program. A demure 12-year-old girl is perched on the couch. Her half-brother, 9, has settled comfortably on the floor.

The boy seizes a set of Tinker Toys that has been left in the room. Out of the plastic connecting pieces he proceeds to build a truck for his sister, occasionally humming a quiet melody. "She likes me to build her stuff," he stops to explain, shyly. Then he continues building what looks to be a doubledecker space tank with large, red plastic wheels.

The sister aims an appreciative smile at her half-brother and adds, "He can draw real good, too."

When I ask the boy what he likes to draw, he pauses in his truck-building to think for a moment. Then he answers: "A picture of {my half-sister}, maybe."

Though their personalities seem to differ, the relationship between the half-brother and sister (they had different fathers) is close. The girl is coquettish in a manner that befits a girl ripening into adolescence. The boy is soft-spoken and thoughtful.

Both children will be attending camp for the third time this summer. The girl will go to Camp Goodwill, while the boy revisits Camp Pleasant.

The boy is an animal enthusiast who hasn't let his entanglement with a bee last summer dampen his curiosity about creatures. He says he plans to spend his time "catching turtles and frogs." His love for the animal kingdom even extends to snakes.

Canoeing is on the girl's list of favorite activities ("I get to paddle."). But, remarkably, top billing is awarded to the daily task of cleaning up. While most kids would groan at the prospect of housekeeping chores, this girl was delighted with them when she was a camper last summer.

"I had to set up the dining hall for dinner," she recalls. "It was fun."

However, the family life of the two children has been anything but fun.

They came under foster care in 1983, after their mother died of alcoholism, the effects of which were passed on to them in the form of learning impairments (the boy was born with fetal alcohol syndrome).

The two children discovered their mother's body and "went down the street calling for help until they found the neighbors," according to Sherril Brown, a social worker who has been assigned to their case since November 1985.

The boy's father, who had not lived with them previously, took them in for a few months after the mother's death. Then he passed them on to a foster home, where they lived for a year until their paternal grandmother claimed them.

The children say that the year they spent with their grandmother was the happiest since their mother's death. But that arrangement was abruptly cut short when the grandmother began to suffer from mental deterioration in November 1985.

She asked Family and Child Services to place the children in a foster home immediately, which the agency did. Since then, the whereabouts of both the grandmother and the father have been unknown.

The children's only other known relatives are an older brother who is living on his own, and a younger sister with fetal alcohol syndrome who was adopted after her mother's death. No one is certain where the two siblings are now.

While the boy seems to have weathered his misfortunes and hardships fairly well, his half-sister is undergoing therapy with Sherril Brown to help her understand the death of her mother and the departure of her grandmother, both of whom were strong influences in her life.

"We've been working on her life book to help her to remember what happened in the past, who she has been associated with and to have a chronicle of her life," Brown explains.

Enclosed in the girl's life book is a letter the girl wrote to her grandmother, but never sent. An arrow-pierced heart and flowers are drawn on the borders of the paper, which reads:

"We wish you could come to visit us. The parents we are living with now are very nice . . . . We love Grandma."


Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.


In hand as of June 1: $25,602.

Our goal: $220,000.