Some participants in our Send a Kid to Camp program live in neighborhoods where the majority of residents are well off, even if the camper's family is not. Such is the case with two campers-to-be from Montgomery County. They met last week with my associate, Michelle Green. Michelle's report:
Jovan Watson can't wait to get to camp so she can start a campfire. "I can do it all by myself," she said proudly. "You have to find two sticks, put one of them in the dirt, and then rub really hard with the other one. I could show you how I do it, except my mother won't let me bring the dirt in the house."
Jovan, 9, who attends Twinbrook Elementary School, will go to Camp Pleasant in a few weeks. Her 11-year-old brother, Michael, who attends Tilden Junior High, will go to Camp Goodwill. The Watsons live in a small house near Veirs Mill Road, less than a mile from some of the most affluent sections of Rockville. Many of their wealthier neighbors don't consider summer camp for the kids a luxury. "Most people I know go to camp," Jovan said.
But Jovan and Michael are luckier than they realize. Without the assistance of Project Image, a service of the Montgomery County Housing Authority that aids families in public-assisted housing, the Watson children would not be able to share the camping experiences of many of their peers. "Project Image is there for people like myself who otherwise would not be able to afford to send their children to camp," said Wilma Watson, Jovan's and Michael's mother.
Fred Carter, the coordinator of Project Image, said the program assists families living in subsidized housing in Montgomery County. "We're a youth services program," he said. "We offer assistance to youngsters living in public housing. Our programs include mentoring for the children, tutoring, and some educational and entertainment programs."
Carter characterized Jovan Watson as "very bright and outspoken." Michael too seems chatty and full of energy. "They're good kids, but they can be a handful," their mother said.
Project Image and the camps will provide a special opportunity for Michael, Wilma Watson added. He has a slight learning disability. Camp should help him build leadership skills and self-esteem.
Being a leader is not a role Michael always enjoys. "Once I had to pick teams for soccer, and I wanted to pick only boys because the boys always pick the boys and the girls always pick the girls. But the teacher made me pick girls," he complained. "At camp they might even make me play with my sister."
Last year, Project Image sent Jovan and Michael to Happyland, a Salvation Army camp, so they have some inkling of what this summer will hold. "We get to do lots of sports," said Michael. "Like soccer," Jovan chimed in. But Jovan is considerably less interested in soccer than her brother is. "I would rather go swimming," she says.
Gary Watson, the father of Jovan and Michael as well as 2-year-old Gary Jr., laughs when he hears his children brag about their camp exploits. "I just hope they have fun and get some outdoor education," he said. "That's what they get out of camp. I know what I get out of it -- them out of the house instead of sitting around watching TV all day!"
The absence of TV at camp is a sore point with his children. "I won't get to watch 'Dennis the Menace,' " Jovan complained. "But maybe we'll get to make boats or something in arts and crafts. Then it will be worth it."
Both Watson parents work, Gary as a printer for the Montgomery County government, Wilma as a receptionist and secretary for a software company. They declined to reveal their combined income. However, Wilma said the family "fell on hard times a few years ago." As a result, the Watsons "just can't afford to send children to camp."
Jovan can't think of any reason why camp would be less than wonderful, but Michael can. "They hit the lights at 9, even if it's on a Friday, and if you walk around after lights out you have to run around the cabin in your drawers," he reports.
Neither child can decide what will be most enjoyable about camp. "I like the woods, and I like playing kickball, and swimming is my favorite. And I like to make new friends. And I like to play volleyball in the cabin," said Michael.
In the cabin? "With pillows," he explained.
Jovan looks forward to singing. "We sing at cookouts; we have singalongs," she said. "I think cookouts are my favorite. I want pork and beans, and marshmallows toasting."
Speaking of cookouts, the smell of a barbecue has been drifting through an open window during the interview. "I'm hungry," Jovan announces abruptly. She already has the camper's anthem down pat.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 2: $41,663.62.
Our goal: $275,000.