Christian Smith’s assertion that he petted a bear cub last time he was at Camp Moss Hollow is met with some skepticism from his friend Avery Starks.
Christian is 8. Avery is 10. It’s Monday morning, and four buses are parked outside a senior center on Evarts Street NE, collection point for kids who will be traveling 60 miles to the camp.
There is a thrum of excitement among the 100 or so children, undercut by a smidgen of trepidation. Little kids are rolling wheeled suitcases. Forms are being filled out. Names are being checked from clipboards. Purple-shirted camp staff are hugging campers they haven’t seen for a year and reassuring ones they’ve never seen before.
Christian Smith is saying he petted a bear cub.
“Don’t tell stories,” says his mother, Kimberly Smith.
Christian laughs and so does Avery. This will be Avery’s first time at Camp Moss Hollow. Christian went two years ago. Honestly, it was not the best experience. He was homesick something terrible. There were a few phone calls to his mom, but he stuck it out and stayed the whole time.
“He vowed never to go back,” Kimberly confides. But now he thinks he’ll be okay.
“When you’re young, you don’t know,” Kimberly says. “He’s ready now. He’ll thank me one day.”
And, indeed, Christian is excited. He’s known Avery his whole life. Their mothers are longtime friends. Christian and Kimberly live in the District’s Trinidad neighborhood. Avery and mom Jelena live in Forestville.
The two buddies will be side by side at Moss Hollow. I ask the boys what they’re looking forward to this week.
“Getting refills of food!” Christian says.
“Going to the pool,” Avery says.
“It’s going to be the biggest slumber party ever,” Jelena says.
“Summer just comes in a whistle,” Kimberly says. “Summer comes so fast, you just need to enjoy it.”
This has been a memorable summer, that’s for sure. Between the nonstop heat and the surprise storm, the staff of Camp Moss Hollow has been kept on its collective toes. The Fauquier County camp was without power for four days, but propane-powered backup generators kicked on instantly. The biggest generator provides electricity to the kitchen, a necessity given how much food must be kept refrigerated.
“I tell you, the heat will drain you,” camp director Hope Asterilla says as children boarded the buses Monday.
Counselors have been on the lookout for heat-related ailments. Certain activities have been switched around. A kickball tournament was moved from an open field to one shaded by trees. Campers and counselors took more breaks. More time was spent in the pool.
“Everyone really adapted,” Hope says. “The evenings are cool at least, which takes some of the sting from the day.”
The hot weather has spurred campers to think about the many different environments that make up humans’ habitat, how trees and grass cool an area, how concrete and buildings make things hot.
“The city must have been almost unbearable,” Hope said.
Yeah, it’s been pretty bad.
Who gives to Camp Moss Hollow, a summer camp for at-risk kids? All sorts of people, which is the beauty of it. Donations come from all corners of The Washington Post’s readership area, from young and old alike.
There are people such as Ben Katz of Potomac. Ben loves his summer camp, and at his 11th birthday party recently, he collected contributions for Moss Hollow. Ben and his friends raised $255.
Then there’s the man from Ashburn who donated $5 and included a note that read: “I am a retired, 71-year-old school teacher on a fixed budget. I wish I could afford more!”
Well, in a way you did. A donor who wishes to remain anonymous is challenging us to raise $100,000 by July 27. The donor will match whatever is given by Post readers until then, the final day of the campaign. That $5 will be $10.
To make a tax-deductible donation, 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.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/