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Fresh Air Fund calls on families

Laura Christiansen
Staff Intern

The Fresh Air Fund is a program that brings inner-city children from New York City on summer vacations to other parts of the country. Those at the Fresh Air Fund believe most inner-city children grow up in tall apartment complexes, lacking open space to freely play and run around. Usually, they have concrete playgrounds with very limited space.
The Fresh Air Fund is looking for volunteer host families to host a child in summer 2009.
The children stay with a volunteer host family for at least seven days during the summer. The first visit begins at age six and, once invited back, can continue visiting the designated family until they are 18.
Michelle Longey, a host mother in West Springfield for the past two summers, hosts a nine-year-old girl named Linda. Linda lives in a housing development in the Bronx.
Linda and Longey s family do an assortment of fun activities during the vacation.
We usually go to vacation Bible school. She absolutely loves that, the singing and the crafts. She loves to play with my daughter. My daughter is a year younger than her. They play school, Longey said.
Many of the children involved in the fund love to spend time outside. Generally, the children love to swim, ride bikes and do several other outdoor activities that they do not have the opportunity to participate in at home.
The fund isn t only beneficial to the children that get to go on the vacations, however.
It s always exciting and a blessing for us to be able to share our home and all that we have with any child; with her especially because she s so thankful and so happy to be here, Longey said.
Participating in the Fresh Air Fund is an opportunity to see what life with another family [is like]. They get to see what s important to another family, Lorie Dixon, the Fresh Air Fun s chairperson for the Pioneer Valley, said.
The children that are selected for this program aren t just randomly selected out of New York City. They have to be recommended by someone that they re involved with. This could mean by Social Services or community organizations.
The families that host a child get to choose the age and gender of the child that visits them.
The families that are selected have to undergo an application process. There are no specific criteria for host families except that they have to be able to open their hearts and homes to another child, Dixon said.
The families can be a married couple with or without children or individuals that are willing to share all that they have with a child.
Overall, about two-thirds of the children get re-invited to the same household after their first visit.
For more information about the Fresh Air Fund, visit www.freshairfund.org.