Columnist

When the campers in Drew-Taylor McCrae’s cabin find out, they have a lot of questions:

Was she mad? Did she try to run away? Did she want to leave her adopted family for her birth family?

“I don’t mind telling them my story,” says Drew-Taylor, one of the Camp Moss Hollow counselors who oversee Cedar Hill, the cabins for 12- to 14-year-old girls.

Part of her story involves Moss Hollow itself, where she was a camper when she was 11, along with a sister and cousin.

“We had a lot of fun,” says Drew-Taylor, now 23. “We wanted to come back, but we never did.”

Until this year, that is. Drew-Taylor ran into someone she recognized from Moss Hollow — at a kickball game, of all places. He is now a counselor, and he suggested she become one, too.

The idea appealed to her. Drew-Taylor has a year left at Bowie State, where she’s studying psychology. She plans to get a master’s and then a PhD on her way to becoming a children’s therapist. What better place to find children than at a summer camp?

“I just want to see how they interact,” she says.

And she thinks she has something to offer. When she was 13, Drew-Taylor’s mother sat her down and told her she was adopted.

“She said that my birth mother couldn’t take care of me because of other situations in her life,” remembers Drew-Taylor, who lives in Temple Hills.

She never met her birth mother, who passed away several years ago. But three years ago, she found out she had siblings. Two years ago, she met them for the first time. She was amazed at how alike they all are.

Drew-Taylor says her adopted mother was worried about her reaction, that she might prefer her biological family. But she wasn’t mad. “My adopted family is amazing,” she says.

She thinks her experience gives her special insight into some of her campers, especially those who are adopted or growing up in the foster-care system.

“I know some of those feelings those kids go through,” she says. “I can say, ‘Oh, I felt that.’ ”

Drew-Taylor said she knows some of the campers don’t come from the best home situations.

“I encourage them to think of this as a safe place.”

The special relationship

“They keep trying to imitate my voice,” says counselor Chris Wake of the campers he oversees in the Deerhorn unit, home to the older boys. “That doesn’t go so well.”

Chris, 21, hails from Newcastle, and he speaks with the inflections of northern England. He’s among the counselors who have come to Moss Hollow as part of Camp America, a program that places youths from around the world at U.S. summer camps.

Chris has a year left at the University of Liverpool, where he studies history. Most of Chris’s friends from back home are goofing off this summer or going to the pub. He wanted to see what America was like, what American kids are like.

And?

“They’re loud,” he laughs. “A lot louder than English kids.”

He’s noticed something: The best-behaved boys are the ones who have been coming to Camp Moss Hollow the longest.

Though it’s been a challenging summer, it’s been a good one, too.

“A kid came up to me and said, ‘You’re my favorite unit staff for the whole four years I’ve been here,’ ” Chris recounts. “That made my week.”

Almost done

Moss Hollow is in a lovely setting — rural Fauquier County — but it’s the people as much as the scenery that make it such a soothing place for at-risk kids from our area. It’s counselors such as Drew-Taylor and Chris.

My annual Send a Kid to Camp campaign ends Friday. If you’ve already donated, thank you very much. If you haven’t, I hope you will. A donor is matching all gifts made between now and the campaign’s end, up to a total of $100,000.

Clyde’s Restaurant Group is offering an incentive, too: If you donate $150 to $249, you will receive a $25 gift certificate for Clyde’s. Donate $250 or more for a $50 one. (Certificates will be sent in September.)

Our goal is $500,000. Our total so far: $354,668.77.

To donate, simply go to washingtonpost.com/camp and click where it says “Give Now.” Or send a check, made payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Send a Kid to Camp, Family Matters of Greater Washington, P.O. Box 200045, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15251-0045.

I’m off next week. I’ll announce how we fared when I return the week of Aug. 12.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.