Fresh Air program offers rural experience to city kids
As a not-for-profit organization, the Fresh Air Fund has, since 1877, given kids from New York City the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors, hosted by local families as they participate in wide-open activities—like hiking, fishing, swimming and horseback riding—that they might not be able to enjoy in the big city. The program’s range extends along the East Coast, as far north as Maine and Toronto and as far south as the Carolinas, but a few participating families are hoping to spread the word and bring more kids to experience the joys of Sullivan County.
“I know what it’s like to be in the city during the summer, and it’s not so much fun when it’s really hot and there’s nowhere to go,” says Lisa Weiss, a Fresh Air host who divides her time between New York City and Hankins. “Parents work, [and] kids don’t really have the freedom to run around, as they do up here.” Hosts and children can choose to stay with each other across different years; Weiss and her husband will be hosting Paige for her third summer, and have even invited her to stay on the occasional weekend during the winter.
Although host families are given general guidelines about the child’s well-being, the curriculum of activities is largely up to them. “It’s about trying new things,” says Weiss. “I think I just sort of thought, ‘what would I like to do? What are the things that interest me about up here?’… The farms, the farmers’ market, and swimming, being in the water. She loves running around, playing with our dog—you have to have those things sorted out in the beginning... And just playing games—we’ve taught her to play Scrabble, and we’ve taught her to play marathon rounds of Monopoly.”
“What [Fresh Air] ask[s] you to do is welcome the child into your house, and do what you normally do,” says Vikki Siciliano of Grahamsville, who will be hosting Kialie for six years running. “Especially the first time the child comes—don’t go crazy doing things, don’t go crazy spending a lot of money, because the child’s going to expect to be entertained every day... We visit people, we go to the pool, we go to rivers to go swimming, and just get together with other kids—just to give the child the experience of the country.”
Siciliano also serves as a liaison for Fresh Air in Sullivan County, and explains the interview and screening process: “You don’t have to have a big house, you don’t have to have a separate room for the child—they need a separate sleeping area, but a separate sleeping area could actually be a mat on the floor with a sleeping bag, as long as they don’t share a bed with somebody. Then I would make an appointment to see the family, and everybody would have to be home. The host family can be a single parent, it could be a couple with no children, it could be a single woman, it could be a single man… They’d have to fill out some forms; a background check would be run, and I would look at the house only to see that it’s safe. It doesn’t have to be immaculately clean—I’m not looking for anything in particular. Just so that I’m looking and saying, ‘Hey, this looks OK for a kid.’ Most families are accepted… we just want to make sure the child is safe and happy.”
The official program dates for 2018 are July 13 through 20, and August 15 through 22, although families can arrange their own dates if they pick up the child from the city. For more information about the Fresh Air Fund and its programs, visit freshair.org. If you’re interested in volunteering as a host family for Fresh Air in Sullivan County, contact Vikki Siciliano at 845/985-2976.