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Monday, July 11, 2011

There’s Nothing Like a Little Fresh Air

There’s Nothing Like 
a Little Fresh Air:
Area families play 
host to inner city kids
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 7/9)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Colorful handmade signs, Mylar balloons, broad smiles and big hugs. This was the welcome awaiting 27 kids en route by bus from New York City to the parking lot at Roger Ludlowe Middle School late Friday afternoon.

Facilitated by the southwestern Connecticut branch of the Fresh Air Fund, the visit paired disadvantaged inner city kids, ages 6 to 18, with host families in Fairfield and surrounding “friendly” towns. Most visits were first-time experiences for both parties; others were recurring connections. First-time hosts were assigned children ages 6 to 12; veterans had access to the full age range. Twenty-six area families were participating in this particular session, the first busload of several to follow during the summer, and will host the youths for up to two weeks, based on host family availability.

“All the kids meet some level of financial need and would not normally be getting out of their apartments or doing things like swimming this summer,” said Martha Mintzer, Fresh Air Fund chairperson for the region. “Host families are interviewed in their homes, a background check is run and forms completed. Families assume any expenses and are only required to provide a bed. In terms of entertaining the children, we encourage families to include the kids in regular family activities.”

Mintzer noted that this is the 135th summer in which the Fresh Air Fund has operated this program. She had experienced it in her own family as a child in Larchmont, NY, when her family took in a youth. “I remember my family talking about their experience,” she said, “and after moving to Weston in 2005, I joined Fresh Air Fund. It’s a cultural exchange for everyone involved. We learn about the kids; they learn about us.”

Families need not be traditional units to qualify as hosts. “We have single parents, empty-nesters, people with older kids,” she said. “A host can also take more than one child as long as there are no other children at home. The ultimate objective is to host kids year after year to build a relationship with them.”

First-time host Lucy Corey of Westport said she saw a program notice in a church bulletin, though knew a friend that had participated. “I heard that it was a good experience and met the little girl that our friend hosted,” Corey said. “We’ve talked to the child we’re hosting, and his mom. His name is Quadier and he’s 9, from lower Manhattan. He seems very sweet and his mom and grandma say he’s active, which will keep our son, Matt, busy. Matt’s an only child, so Quadier will be like a big brother.”

The Barcello family of Easton was looking forward to first-time hosting Kaiya, a nine-year-old from the Bronx. “We saw a photo, have been emailing her and talked on the phone last night,” said Vicky Barcello. “She was giddy and excited. My daughter Jenna is equally excited to have a sister for a week. We’re going to go bowling, to the beach and Lake Compounce. We’d want someone to do this for our child if we were at a similar disadvantage.”

First-time hosting Kah-ley, a six-year-old boy from Brooklyn, the Short family of Fairfield was excited about the week ahead. “Kah-ley has same-aged siblings, loves video games and wants to go swimming every day,” said Lia Short.

The McCarthy’s, of Weston, were hosting eight-year-old Donte, from Brooklyn. Young Finn McCarthy, 8, said, “He likes the same things as us, like video games, basketball, baseball and swimming. We’re going to a family fun day with him, a friend’s barbecue, Compo Beach and the movies.”

Veterans of the Fresh Air Fund program, the Diamond family was hosting a 13-year-old Brooklyn boy named William for the eighth consecutive summer. “He was six that first summer,” said Jennifer Diamond. “He’s like a brother and just helped me celebrate my bar mitzvah,” said Jennifer’s son Ben. Added Ben’s nine-year-old sister Ella, “He’s like a part of the family. He’s good at basketball and teaches me shots. We’re going to go to day camp together, too.”

Commenting on the experience overall, program leader Mintzer said, “The experience puts a smile on everyone’s faces while serving as a vacation for the kids. It’s a rewarding time for all.”

The Fresh Air Fund seeks is still looking for host families. Interested parties may contact Martha Mintzer at 203-226-6627 or via email:

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