Joy is the reward for a week at camp

Reiko Pearson takes kids who can't afford it.

Published May 25, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - Reiko Pearson, 40, aims to fulfill a prophecy spoken to her by a fellow church member in Blair, S.C., many years ago. The woman said, "You will be mother to millions, " Pearson recalled.

Next week, Pearson will add 12 more souls to her tally when she hosts her annual Aunt Reiko's Camp. This year, she will take the kids to Disney's Fort Wilderness Camp in Orlando.

"I started it four years ago when I learned there are a lot of children in our world who don't get to go anywhere, " she said.

The first year she took two kids, next year four. Last year, "Just me and my little blue car with enough kids that I wouldn't get stopped."

Now, the travelers are up to 12; if she had better financial resources, she would like to take 20.

The cost for a week of tent camping, fishing, boating, horseback riding, a wagon ride, Chip and Dale sing-along, evening campfire with Pearson reading to the kids, is $100 per child.

Pearson has saved enough to sponsor six campers this year. Her former mother-in-law donated $100. "A nice gentleman donated another $100, " she said.

Because Aunt Reiko's Camp is recently incorporated as a nonprofit entity, the park gave the campers a rate of $44, down from $56.

The $100 covers the cost of the park excursion, camping, three meals a day cooked by Pearson - including her famous pancakes on the grill with caramelized peaches - and some change for souvenirs. Also, it provides for a group picture of the campers and plaque honoring a donor of at least $100.

Why does she do it and how does she manage? Her answer is simple: "When it comes down to the children, you either love them or you don't."

The certified nursing assistant works midnight to 8 a.m. as a home health aide with Health Matters. In the mornings she attends classes at the University of South Florida, studying for a degree in exceptional and special education. Other hours, she cleans houses.

"When it comes down to these kids, it blows this energy into my soul, " said Pearson, who has no children of her own. "You gotta see the looks on their faces. It's like, 'Yeah!' "

Pearson distributes applications for camp to inner-city youngsters and also roams rural areas. "God selects them, " she said.

The camp starts on Memorial Day with children and their parents outside her apartment on Hale Avenue. She sets up two grills, inflatable swimming pools and tents. "I'm a good cook, " she said without modesty, while thanking Kraft Foods for sending her a magazine focusing on grilling.

Tuesday, they'll be off to Fort Wilderness Camp. Pearson is looking to borrow a van so the whole group can travel together.

Off to the wild is a far cry from where many of these children would have been spending the week were it not for Aunt Reiko. Working parents who can't afford child care drop them off at Wal-Mart, Pearson said. "They sit down and play at McDonald's."

Of her efforts to enhance the lives of these children, Pearson is philosophical: "I want to leave the world a tad bit better."

Fast Facts:

To help support Aunt Reiko's Camp

Tax-deductible donations can be made in the camp's name at Hernando Bank, Route 41, Brooksville, beside Dunkin' Donuts; by calling Reiko Pearson at 397-3613; or by mailing to her at 460 Hale Ave., Apt. 7, Brooksville, 34601.

To lend a van, call Pearson at 397-3613.