First-time participants in our annual Send a Kid to Camp program can hardly wait to board the buses. My associate, Michelle Green, interviewed a first-timer from Alexandria last week. Michelle's report:
Lenese Stevens is the kind of kid any parent would be proud of -- usually. Her grades are almost straight A's, she's a member of the safety patrol and she received an award for perfect attendance at Cora Kelly Elementary School in Alexandria. In fact, 10-year-old Lenese would have been on the honor roll for five straight years if it weren't for her rambunctious streak.
"Last fall I got a 'U' in behavior," she confessed.
"For 'unsatisfactory,' " added her mother, Betty, who made a stern face in her daughter's direction. "We go through this at the beginning of every school year. She's a good student, but she's got to settle down." Lenese's mother understands her daughter's problem all too well. On her own report cards, her teachers always said she talked too much too, she recalled.
Getting a little rowdy in school isn't the only thing Lenese and her mother have in common. This summer, instead of having to settle down, Lenese will have the opportunity to put some of her abundant energy to good use. She will attend Camp Goodwill near Quantico. Her mother attended the same camp years ago.
"Lenese doesn't stop talking about camp," Betty said. "Last night she gave me a list of things she needs to bring with her. She's counting the days."
Among the things Lenese looks forward to are making lanyards, playing baseball and swimming. But she's not looking forward to swimming in a lake.
"There are snakes!" she gasped. "You can hear them hissing in the weeds."
"Those are bugs you hear, not snakes!" her mother said. "Snakes don't make loud noises like that."
"There are snakes," Lenese insisted. "Maybe when you went to camp there were no snakes, but there are now."
Like Lenese, Betty grew up in Northern Virginia and attended Alexandria schools. She is a secretary for the school system. Lenese's father, Ralph, is a printer. Betty, Ralph, Lenese and 3-year-old Percy live near East Glebe Road in the home of Betty's mother, Lillie Z. Epps. Lenese also has two stepbrothers in their twenties who do not live in the D.C. area.
If she weren't going to camp, Lenese said she would probably spend her summer "watching television." However, Betty Stevens indicated that without the help of Family and Child Services, the agency that operates the camps under the Send a Kid to Camp program, Lenese would probably not get to go. "I'd be willing to make sacrifices for her to have the experience, but camping is so expensive, just so expensive," she sighed.
Last year Lenese went to a camp run by the Virginia State Police for school safety patrol members, so she has some idea of what's in store this summer. But police camp had one major drawback. "They made us have ear drops every single time we went swimming," Lenese complained. "I never heard of anyone getting anything wrong with their ears from swimming."
Although Lenese won't have friends from school with her at Goodwill, as she did at police camp, she's not concerned about being lonely. "The main reason I want to go is to make new friends," she said.
Lenese said she would like to become a teacher or a lawyer, like Phylicia Rashad's character on "The Cosby Show." "She's my hero; she has her career set out and everything," Lenese said. "You can see how she can be a lawyer and still handle her kids and everything."
Lenese is involved in the youth choir at her church and wants to volunteer in the community, but she's not quite ready to run her own household. "I get in trouble for leaving clothes on the floor, leaving books on the steps, leaving the TV on and leaving the kitchen a mess," she admitted. And though Lenese taught her mother how to barbecue based on what she learned around a campfire at camp last year, cooking isn't high on her list of favorite activities, either.
What does she think the food will be like at camp? "Bleeech," Lenese said, with feeling. "Canteen might be good, but that's it."
Even so, Lenese can't wait to get going. "I guess I'll miss my family," she said, when prompted. "We'll miss her too," said Betty Stevens, "But it will be really good for her to get away. She needs to go do her thing away from here."
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
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 21: $93,044.09.
Our goal: $275,000.