Two years ago, Rodney Walker won a contest sponsored by Parade Magazine and by our circulation department. Last week, he won my heart.

Rodney is a 14-year-old resident of Hyattsville who has delivered The Washington Post since 1987. When he was 12, Rodney was one of four Post carriers to win the 1989 Young Columbus Contest.

This honor goes to only a handful of outstanding young newspaper carriers from across the country each year. I've been a Washington-area judge several times (although I wasn't one the year Rodney was chosen), and I can tell you that the winners are solid gold.

These are kids who get up at 5 a.m. every day to deliver the paper -- rain or shine, love life or no love life, aches or no aches, help from Dad or no help from Dad. They get it done, every blessed morning. Overweight typists such as Levey know full well that without the Rodney Walkers of the world, our deathless paragraphs wouldn't amount to a jigger of flat club soda.

Rodney's prize for winning the Young Columbus Contest was a 10-day trip to Ireland, which Rodney says he "thoroughly enjoyed." But when he got home, Rodney had the same problem that many Washingtonians do when they return from overseas: what to do with foreign currency that there was no time to exchange "over there."

Yes, you can turn leftover rupees, pounds and whatevers into dollars through any major Washington-area bank. Or you can do it through any of the foreign exchange companies downtown. But sometimes you don't get around to it, or the rate is unfavorable, or you're too young to have wheels. Bottom line: The foreign money sits in a dresser drawer, gathering dust.

The dust was thick -- and getting thicker -- on 37 Irish pounds that Rodney brought home 20 months ago. Then he read my column of Nov. 26, and an Irish-American light bulb went on.

In that column, I noted that Riggs National Bank will convert foreign money that I collect into American dollars for the benefit of our annual Children's Hospital fund-raising campaign. The same day, Rodney mailed me his leftover Irish bills. According to a spokeswoman at the British Embassy, 37 Irish pounds are worth approximately $65.

That's a mighty hefty sum for a 14-year-old to do without. But Rodney Walker is no ordinary 14-year-old.

"I have always wanted to contribute to your winter drive," Rodney writes, "but due to my being a minor, I can't write checks and don't trust money orders." However, one look at my Nov. 26 column and "I had found a way."

Mr. Walker, you can play on my team any time. I can't say that I'll be up at 5 a.m. to help you on your appointed rounds. Creative geniuses need their beauty sleep, after all. But I can say this, on behalf of all the kids at Children's:

Thanks to a guy who's wise and generous beyond his years.

Elsewhere on the Children's front . . . .

We have converted yet another procrastinator, our first of the 1990-91 Children's campaign. She's Jeanne M. Schoeffler, of Rockville. She writes:

"Each year I tell myself, 'I am going to send something to Children's Hospital,' and each year I put it off until it is too late. This year I was bound and determined to get this in before the end of the campaign."

"This" was a check for $50. It arrived on Day Three of the current drive -- long before the phrase "too late" had even a remote chance to kick in.

The motivation behind Jeanne's gift was every bit as praiseworthy as the gift itself. "I have two boys (7 and 3)," Jeanne wrote, "who luckily have not needed the services of Children's. I pray that they will not in the future either. But I want to be sure it is always there, just in case."

With help like yours, Jeanne, it will be. And with help like yours, every family can rest assured that their kids will receive care at Children's, even if the family is too poor to pay for it.

Meanwhile, Carol Leydig, of Derwood, Md., is the first Levey reader to help our 1990-91 campaign despite a pinch in her pocketbook.

Her checking account "looks worse than last year," Carol writes -- which makes two (and probably 200,000) of us. "But I'm counting my blessings and hoping that this {$25 check} will help someone else count theirs."

It sure will, Carol. Thanks for the donation -- and for the positive outlook. Even if your checking account balance has shrunk, dear reader, it probably hasn't shrunk to zero. Neither has the need of The Hospital With the Built-In Deficit.


Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.