Some youngsters attend summer camp to swim or play sports, but Mona King and Marilyn Smith spent Wednesday morning getting acquainted with horses.
The two 13-year-olds, both rising eighth-graders at Elkridge Landing Middle School, groomed and cleaned their new equine friends at the Days End Farm Horse Rescue complex in Woodbine.
"I was 2 when I first got up close and touched a horse," said Mona, a Hanover resident who said she wants to be a veterinarian.
The visit to Days End, which provides care for abused and neglected horses, was part of a summer camp experience sponsored by the Columbia Association that has young campers spending most of the week caring for others.
"Even though you're just one person, you can make a huge difference in somebody's life if you just reach out and help," said 12-year-old camper Meah Konstanzer of Clarksville.
Camp Make a Difference participants go swimming, play games and take a field trip, but the camp's main focus is service to the community.
Under the guidance of camp director Liz Rigby and assistant director Bethany Cunha, the group of about a dozen campers participate in a minimum of four service projects during the week. For their efforts, campers receive community service hours toward their high school graduation requirement. But that's not their primary motivation.
"I've noticed that a lot more kids are coming because they want to serve," said Rigby, the camp's third-year director, who is also chair of the English department at Marley Middle School in Glen Burnie.
"They might have a lot of experiences and awareness of the world because they've traveled, but most of these kids don't have an understanding of issues like poverty and sickness, and what they can do to help," she said. "With this kind of camp, we're showing kids that they can do a pay-it-forward for their own community."
The Days End visit marked the third of four service projects for the Make a Difference group.
The campers began their week at Oakland Mills Youth and Teen Center, making sandwiches and decorating cookies for the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, which provides 24-hour shelter and community education for victims of domestic violence and homelessness.
On Tuesday, they worked to remove invasive plants at the Howard County Conservancy in Woodstock.
After their Wednesday trip to Days End, the campers spent Thursday playing games and making crafts with residents at Ellicott City Senior Center Plus. The campers were scheduled to wrap up their week with a Friday field trip to Splashdown Virginia, a water park.
"The camp offers a sampling of different projects that the kids could do for service in the future," said Cunha, a Centennial High and Towson University graduate who teaches with Rigby at Marley Middle.
"This is like an appetizer to a meal of service," she said. "I've heard kids say that they have a good feeling at the end of the day, because what they did wasn't about them. It was about helping someone else."
The camp is offering four sessions this summer — the final session is next week — and slots usually fill up fast.
Seeing the campers help with the abused horses was heartwarming for Rigby, a former Columbia resident who now lives in Glen Burnie.
"It's really gratifying to see, because they're walking the walk," she said. "It's not just an abstract concept in their heads. The kids understand that cruelty exists, but there are ways to prevent it. They connect with this project because they're so touched by the stories of the cruelty that's been done to the horses."
The Days End visit began with a briefing by tour guide Matt Koplow, who showed before and after photos of the abused horses, most of whom came to the farm suffering from starvation. The horses are referred to Days End by animal control departments in neighboring counties and states. Once they are rehabilitated, the farm seeks to find the horses new homes.
"These horses have gone through so much," said Marilyn, whose sister is a veterinary technician. "It's sad to think that someone couldn't appreciate them. But we can."
Campers split up into three groups and took pitchforks and wheelbarrows into an open field to pick up after the horses. Their next task was scrubbing water buckets.
It wasn't glamorous work, but that didn't bother the campers.
"I've been here before with the Girl Scouts, and we took care of grooming the horses," said Meah, who will enter seventh grade at Lime Kiln Middle School this fall. "It's really good to be able to help the animals be rehabilitated, because they're so sweet and innocent."
While the opportunity to serve attracts the campers, it isn't the only reason that they choose Camp Make a Difference.
"I encourage people to come here because it's really fun," said Brianna Andah, 13, a rising eighth-grader at Oakland Mills Middle School. "The trip to Days End is my favorite activity all week."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun