This summer, for the first time, significant numbers of handicapped children will attend camp under our annual Send a Kid to Camp program. My associate, Michelle Green, interviewed one such camper last week. Her report: Ten-year-old LaVon Oliver has a lot in common with his young neighbors near 14th and T Streets NW. He likes to shoot baskets. He'd rather play Nintendo than do his homework. And he has been taught to avoid the open-air drug markets a few blocks from his home.

But LaVon's life is very different from those of most of his peers. He was born almost completely deaf. Even with the help of hearing aids, he can barely perceive voices and can utter only a few phrases. Although he's studying speech and lip-reading, LaVon communicates primarily through sign language.

LaVon, who attends the intermediate division of Kendall Demonstration School on the campus of Gallaudet University, is one of 19 hearing-impaired children who will be attending camp in July under the Send a Kid to Camp program (he'll go to Camp Goodwill). Volunteer interpreters, along with teachers from Kendall, will help the youngsters get the most out of their stay.

LaVon learned to swim last summer at the Lions Camp for the Deaf. But at Goodwill, he'll share a pool with hearing as well as hearing-impaired kids. "I used to worry about him around the other children," said LaVon's mother, Michelle Barr. "But I'm not as overprotective as I previously was. I found out that my overprotection was closing him up. He has to deal with reality at some point."

Michelle, whose 2-month-old daughter Sharon now takes up a great deal of her energy, pointed out that LaVon can take care of himself around other kids. "I send him over to visit my mother, who lives in public housing, and a lot of the kids tease him, and it can be really frustrating. But he loves visiting with his cousins and playing with the kids in the parking lot. He teaches the kids to sign."

Michelle added that LaVon taught her most of the sign language she knows. "I'd taken classes over at Kendall for two years, but most of the stuff I learned from him," she said.

LaVon has two hearing aids, but his mother said that he avoids wearing them. "I think he's still somewhat ashamed of needing the hearing aids," she lamented. "He's 'lost' two sets -- but I'll bet he hid them somewhere. He'll wear them in school, and he'll wear them to church, but the minute he comes through our door they come off."

LaVon can pick up vibrations, and his mother attracts his attention by clapping loudly. He seemed a little confused by a question about what he wanted to do when he was older, but gamely tried to sign, ignoring his mother's attempts to get his attention.

"Do you understand the question?" his mother signed. "If you don't understand you have to say so. It's okay if you don't understand. We will not get mad, but I need to know so I can help you."

Suddenly LaVon's face lit up. He pretended to be steering a car, then rubbed his chin several times. His mother laughed loudly. "He wants to learn to drive and grow a beard," she interpreted.

LaVon indicated that he likes to write and draw by pantomiming those actions. He also demonstrated that he loves Sunday school. He signed the word "church" and pronounced the words "Praise the Lord" while pointing at a Bible on a nearby table.

"The church has been there for us in so many ways," Michelle emphasized. "I'm a recovering {cocaine} addict. {Mount Sinai Baptist} Church has a drug and alcohol program that gave me something to hold onto. I've been clean -- no, I've been delivered -- for 19 months now."

LaVon has a brother, 17-year-old DeAngelo, who is presently at Oak Hill, a city-run juvenile detention center. "When I came clean, his life turned around, too," his mother said. "He and LaVon are close. LaVon comes with me to visit him at the center. DeAngelo knows how to sign, and he's even more protective of LaVon than I am. He's studying for his G.E.D., and hopefully he'll be allowed home visits next month."

Michelle does not work at present because of the baby. She is glad LaVon will have a chance to get out of the house and away from the neighborhood next month. "I want him to gain some independence, but I worry about him a lot around here," she said.

And what does LaVon hope to gain from camp? LaVon signed the word "candy." "I saw that!" exclaimed his mother. They both laughed. He may have closed-caption television and hearing aids, but when it comes to junk food, LaVon has a lot in common with his peers.


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 15: $76,003.09.

Our goal: $275,000.