- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

Good thing no one had one of those fancy digital cameras when my son Mario and Cuzin Ray challenged me to do cannonballs in the pool behind the house we rented in the Outer Banks last week.

Whee! What a sight! Even I laughed so hard I nearly choked on the chlorinated water. Then, I surprised myself and went back in again, and again. This camper’s relapse occurred after a friend, Vincent, got me up at the crack of dawn to huff and puff on the treadmill, then to swim laps in the fitness center.

My reward? Ten minutes in the sauna. Is this a vacation in the Corolla Light Resort or a camper’s haven for grown-ups?

When I found myself standing in the midday sun, just about to clobber Cuzin Ray on a grass putting green (actually, by default, after his ball rolled into a gully), it dawned on me that I had happily reverted to my competitive childhood days at Camp Atwater.

Once in a while, it’s OK to act like a happy camper. Most adults are so stressed out that we have forgotten how to relax. I knew I needed Workaholics Anonymous when I drowned my cell phone by absentmindedly using it in the hot tub. (Guess how I made that $100 mistake?) For our campers’ stroll, Cuzin Kim led our pack to the gazebo jutting into Albemarle Sound. Looking like ducklings following the mother goose we watched, we enjoyed the sunset. At one point, the crew gathered around the deck and pathetically attempted a Motown sing-along, replete with the Temptations’ “Walk.”

Then, I broke out into a solo medley of campfire songs I learned at my beloved Camp Atwater.

The oldest residential black camp in this country, Camp Atwater celebrates its 85th anniversary with alumni activities Aug. 11 to 13. Located on the lush shores of Lake Lashaway in North Brookfield, Mass., it is now owned and operated by the Urban League of Springfield.

I often identify myself as an “Atwaterite,” as much as any other formative moniker, during social introductions.

Atwaterites — and there is a fair contingent of D.C. folks in that troop — know how this special summer site instills excellence, honor, sportsmanship, religion and social graces in youngsters.

Recently, my daughter Misti and I reminisced about our Atwater adventures, or misadventures. Through the laughter, we realized that four generations of our family experienced enriching, enlightening and educational summers that prepared us for adulthood.

Unfortunately, not all children are afforded the opportunities that summer camp offers. Right now, countless parents are wondering and worrying what to do with their children as the school year comes to a close. I wish all children could attend a camp at least once.

So, I read with great interest the announcement soliciting funds for children to attend the YWCA of the National Capital Area’s summer day camp, which begins in just two short weeks on June 26. They need your help, as do other organizations providing this valuable service to our children and our community.

One local grandmother wrote: “When we lost our daughter, our grandchildren’s mother, owed to a tragic accident, my husband and I didn’t know how we, at our ages, would manage the demands of raising three children. However, with God’s grace, we are doing so, and organizations like the YWCA go far to help many Washington families like ours.” Her 9-year-old grandson received a full scholarship to summer camp, thanks to a single donor, while her two granddaughters, ages 13 and 14, volunteered at the camp.

Camps not only provide programs for younger students, they provide summer jobs for older students as well.

“Our focus is in improving a child’s overall health and wellness by always challenging their minds and their bodies,” said Kate Greiner, manager of donor and public relations for the local YWCA, which is celebrating its centennial year.

The YWCA’s day camp, at its Fitness and Aquatics Center at 624 Ninth St. NW, is one of many area groups seeking donations to provide safe summer fun for children ages 6 to 12.

Any support is greatly appreciated, said Ms. Greiner, but the YWCA is particularly seeking donations of $50 to $186, which is the weekly cost for attending all nine weeks through Aug. 26. Otherwise, the cost is $175 per child for one week and $375 for two weeks.

Last year, the YWCA provided full or partial scholarships for 46 of 60 children, for a total of $11,923. This year, the goal is to provide scholarships for 75 percent of the 150 campers expected to sign up.

“Many children in the D.C. area don’t get out and get a chance to play,” said Gail Palovcsik, the camp director. “We have activities to keep them on the go all day long, from the minute they come in until the minute they leave.”

The “structured activities,” which can run from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., include swimming, karate, yoga, arts and crafts, museum and library visits, games on the Mall, as well as time for reading and learning computer skills.

Nothing can be worse than having children, of any age, wandering the streets, sitting around idly all day long, watching television or playing violent video games.

Better to spend a summer vacation doing cartwheels or cannonballs in whatever camper’s haven.

For more information, go to www.ywcanca.org or call 202/626-0700.

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