A summer in the country for city kids
Mont Vernon brothers Jacob, 4; Isaiah, 8 and Aaron Velez, 14, holds up a sign welcoming their Fresh Air “brother” Justin, 10, back to New Hampshire on Monday afternoon. This is the family's second year hosting Justin. More than 20 New York City children arrived in the Granite State this week, eager to enjoy some summer fun with host families in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. (APRIL GUILMET)
Grace Hansen, 13, of southern Maine, hugs her Fresh Air Fund “sister” Gabriella, also 13, moments after the bus pulled into the Burger King parking lot in Londonderry on Monday afternoon. The Hansen family has hosted Gabriella for the past six years and decided to drive down to New Hampshire rather than wait a week longer for the Fresh Air bus to arrive in Maine. (APRIL GUILMET)
For some, it was their first time meeting their soon-to-be house guests, though many others welcomed the New York City kids who have, over the years, been welcomed as cherished members of the family every summer.
Thanks to the Fresh Air Fund, 22 inner-city children ranging in age from 6 to 18 are officially on their summer vacation, to be spent with host families from New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.
Most of the children stay with their host families for two weeks, though a couple of them stay even longer, enjoying such simple pleasures as beach trips, barbecues and walking barefoot in the grass.
Loraine Champeno and her son Michael, 14, eagerly awaited the arrival of Marquis, 16. Marquis has been spending his summers with the Derry family for the past six years.
“My son was just 7 that first summer, and an only child. He decided he didn't mind sharing his parents,” Champeno said.
This year, Marquis is spending the entire summer in Derry, much to the delight of Champeno, who said that last year her Fresh Air “son” arrived later, and didn't get to spend the Fourth of July holiday in New Hampshire.
“It just wasn't the same without him here,” she said, noting that Michael and Marquis keep in touch through phone calls and emails during the rest of the year.
Rye resident Kathy Cavallaro's son, Truman, 16, shares a similar bond with his Fresh Air “brother” Diego, also 16.
The Bronx teenager called his New Hampshire “mom” the night before his trip to New Hampshire to tell her he planned to sleep on the bus so he'd be able to stay up late catching up with his host family on Monday night.
Diego has been a part of the Cavallaro family “for so many years, we've lost count,” Kathy Cavallaro said.
“We have a lot in common,” Truman Cavallaro said of Diego. “We both love the same music.”
Finding host families hasn't always been easy, according to Champeno, who noted that many interested hosts express concerns over the costs or responsibilities of taking in a Fresh Air child.
But truly, all it takes is a bit of love and understanding, she said. One year, the Champenos decided to take Marquis on an overnight trip to the White Mountains, only to learn that Marquis was quite anxious to go “home” to Derry.
“All he ever asks of us is to make a nice sign to welcome him off the bus and cook him some dinner,” Champeno said with a laugh. “We definitely don't have any leftovers when he's here.”
Empty-nesters Darlene and Mark Godfrey, who live on Glen Lake in Goffstown, said they were eager to take in two Fresh Air boys for the first time, since their own children are now grown.
“One of them is from Brooklyn and one is from the Bronx,” Darlene Godfrey said. “I'm guessing they won't know each other so we'll all be in the same boat here.”
Each summer, over 4,000 Fresh Air Fund children visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small town communities across 13 states, from Virginia to Maine, and Canada.
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