When Tyler Carter and Nariah Jones first set eyes on each other, it looked as though instead of best friends forever they’d be best friends never.

They met at Camp Moss Hollow when they were both 8. Each girl thought the other had “attitude.” Perhaps they were too much alike.

“We literally tried to outdo each other,” Nariah says.

If one went to Camp Moss Hollow with beads in her hair, the other put more beads in her hair. When Nariah showed up at camp one summer wearing a lighted belt embossed with her name, Tyler upped the ante with a belt that flashed her name.

And then, when they were about 10, something happened. “When we got older,” Nariah says, “we realized we were pretty good people.”

Nariah Jones and Tyler Carter, both 16, in Washington, D.C. on July 16, 2012. They met at Camp Moss Hollow and became best friends. Now they both work at the camp. (John Kelly/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Today, the 16-year-olds are best friends, and both are on the staff at Moss Hollow, a summer camp for at-risk kids from the Washington area. The girls shared the story of their camp-born friendship recently, as buses waited to take some of this year’s kids to camp.

“There was one year I missed,” Tyler says. “I was literally heartbroken.”

Nariah remembers it, too. “I didn’t know what to think,” she says. “When you get here, you see all your friends. I thought, ‘Why isn’t she here?’ ”

The girls went from being campers to being leadership trainees. This summer, they’re working in the kitchen.

“Ever since I was little, my big dream was to become a counselor,” Tyler says. They idolized their counselors, especially when they reached Cedar Hill, the set of cabins for 11- to 14-year-old girls.

“In Cedar Hill, you realize why you’re here,” Nariah says. “You learn how to be a lady.”

They’re rising high school seniors now, with thoughts of college. But they expect to keep rising through the ranks at Moss Hollow. How much longer will they go?

Nariah says, “I want to go until . . .

. . . Until I’ve made a difference,” Tyler chimes in.

“I feel like it’s my time to change a child’s life, the way mine was changed,” Nariah says .

(And now, let’s hear from the mothers. Cynthia Carter says Moss Hollow has helped Tyler become more responsible. “As a parent you want your kids to have better social skills,” Cynthia says. “She’s put in front of different people from different backgrounds. It just broadens her as a young teenager.”

(Tritty Ross, Nariah’s mom, says she sent Nariah to camp to help her become more independent. “She was a mama’s girl,” Tritty says. “I babied her so much. I used to cry sending her off. She was like, ‘Please, walk away.’ I just knew she was going to return and say, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to go anymore.’ But she’s been going ever since.”)

Although Moss Hollow is the centerpiece of their friendship, the two see each other year-round, even though Tyler lives in Clinton and Nariah lives in the District.

“We hang out a lot,” Nariah says. “We do a lot of shopping.”

“Too much,” Tyler says. “I think our moms are happy we get paid to be here.”

Oh, and the two teens have noticed two little girls named Shannon and Ryan whose friendship has blossomed at camp.

Nariah says: “They’re best friends, but they go tit for tat, just like us.”

How to help

You can help forge future friendships by donating in support of Moss Hollow. To make a tax-deductible gift, go to washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.

A donor is matching all gifts, up to a total of $100,000. And Clyde’s is again offering gift certificates. Donate $150 to $249 to Moss Hollow and receive a $25 coupon for Clyde’s, the Hamilton, the Tombs or the Old Ebbitt Grill. Donate $250 or more and get a $50 coupon. Or go to any Clyde’s restaurant Wednesday and order the BLT sandwich and heirloom tomato salad. Proceeds benefit Send a Kid to Camp.

Meet our donors

McLean’s Nora Apt celebrated her bat mitzvah June 2. Nora has been going to sleep-away camp for five years, and for her mitzvah project, she thought she would help other kids do the same thing. “To raise money for the Send a Kid to Camp campaign I had bracelets designed that said ‘Send a Kid to Camp’ on one side and ‘I Love Camp’ on the other side,” Nora wrote. She sold the bracelets to her friends and family and sent the proceeds to me. Thank you, Nora!

And thank you to Kelly Nirenberg. The Alexandria youngster went to sleep-away camp for the first time this summer and wanted other children to have the same opportunity. “The money that I am sending in was my pay for pet-sitting my neighbor’s pet for two weeks,” she wrote.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.