Lifestyle & Culture

Family Greets Fall With a Down-Home (D.C.) Party

September 10, 2016

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DEB AND BEN JOHNS know how to throw a party—they’ve happily thrown this one for 12 years now, to help everyone blast into fall and to mark a very meaningful period in their life together.

Every year there’s a theme and every year it starts with the same question, says Deb Johns: What will men be willing to wear, in the heat, at an outdoor do. “Any guy will put on a T-shirt and shorts,” she says with the conviction of one who has actually figured men out (I think she has!).

So Friday night the theme was “summer camp,” last year was “western” (and there were a few cowboy hats in this crowd, possibly getting a second wearing), the year before, “tacky wedding.”

Next step, at least this time around, was Ben Johns calling around their Georgetown neighborhood asking to borrow canoes and kayaks—he shlepped several over, to float in the pool, to hold drinks, just to dress up the joint. Then came the “Camp Bo Go 2016” and “Camp Counselor” T-shirts. Then the two days of setting up tents and picnic tables on the  grounds of their early-19th-century brick farmhouse.

Naturally, there’s a story behind this annual event, which benefits the Emergency Family Relief Fund of the pediatric oncology department at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital .

When he was in the sixth grade, young Bo Johns was a patient in that unit, hard to reconcile with the grinning young adult in the Camp Counselor T-shirt surrounded by old school friends, in fact by several generations of people who have come every year to celebrate Bo’s blooming health and the Johnses’ philanthropic instinct (never mind that they also throw the most fun party in town!).

Back to the party’s origins. Deb Johns recounts: While in the hospital, for 87 days, Bo would look around at the other children and ask, Where are their parents? Needless to say, his were right there with him. Staff explained that a lot of the parents couldn’t afford to lose a day’s pay by sitting with their child at the hospital. Others lived some four or five hours away and simply couldn’t afford to put their life on hold for the length of time it would take for their child to improve.

Bo Johns did more than improve: He conquered his cancer and, with his parents, figured out a way to make things better for other kids in the same boat he’d been in. And this year a Junior Committee reached out to younger people, as well as to the usual gala crowd, to help make that happen.

And all those young people lined up to join the party as I was leaving. They were dressed as campers, happy to eat the “camp food” prepared by Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company, sit around the inflated “campfires” and show what a good time looks like.

—Nancy McKeon 


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