“I had no idea what I was getting into.” This is a phrase that all people who have hosted a child through The Fresh Air Fund have in common. For most of us, it is a choice we are grateful to have made.
It’s not an easy decision to bring a child you don’t know into your home, but there are so many wonderful reasons to try it.
And if you think it’s hard to take a child, imagine sending your child to complete strangers. Why do parents do it? The main reason is that they believe their child is going somewhere safer than home — a place like many of our small towns in western Pennsylvania, which are relatively free of crime, where sirens cause notice instead of being background noise.
Each summer The Fresh Air Fund sends thousands of underprivileged New York City children to families in small towns and rural areas in 13 states and Canada. I cannot stress enough that for many of the children, this may be the only experience they ever have outside the city.
Last summer, as the bus traveling from New York City to Pennsylvania passed the first farm after leaving the city, a 7-year-old boy jumped up and squealed, “A farm! I’ve never seen a real farm! I wish I could have captured it on video.” His joy was intoxicating.
That’s the thing about the kids who visit: Most are so happy with simple things — playing in a backyard, riding a bike, roasting marshmallows. The boy who visits us each year says it’s his “therapy, a break from the chaos.”
Many hosts form permanent bonds with the kids as more than 65 percent return to the same family each summer and they can participate in the program through age 18.
Trips are one to two weeks; you can choose age 6-12 and gender. Anyone can host: families, retirees, singles.
If this is something you’ve thought about doing, please make this the year to try it. As one wise host mother said, “If I’ve given a child even one new experience and brought at least one smile, it was worth it.”
For more information, go to www.freshair.org or contact local chairs Anne or Brian Cope at (724) 465-5341.