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Fresh Air Fund hosts Tanya and Pat Robinson, of Manchester, and their children, Caira, front left, and Lena; Mara, top left, Nola, 2, and Nikka, right, display a photograph of the family with Fresh Air child Aniyah from last summer. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

Manchester family, NYC girl they hosted had such a good experience, they're getting together again

Last summer, 6-year-old Aniyah Hopkins didn't want to get on a bus in her home city of New York to spend two weeks in New Hampshire. She cried when her Manchester host family picked her up.

But soon those tears gave way to smiles.

On Monday, Aniyah, now 7, will board a bus for her return, ready to bestow big hugs upon all seven members of the Robinson family, who once again will host her in a visit arranged through the Fresh Air Fund.

"She's ready to go," her father, Antoine Hopkins Sr., said in a phone interview from New York last week. "She had a lot of fun with (the Robinsons)."

Aniyah will ride a bus with the first wave of 55 Fresh Air kids expected to arrive in New Hampshire on Monday. In total, 154 New Hampshire families will host 161 Fresh Air kids from New York City this summer. Some families will host two or three children - and it's not too late for Granite State families to volunteer to give a child from a low-income neighborhood a break from urban life.

Aniyah's two-week visit last summer gave everyone involved a fresh perspective.

"My girls are very compassionate and caring, and I think this just brought out a whole other side of them and being appreciative of what they have," said Tanya Robinson, the mother of five. "We take our kids out to eat all the time. Aniyah probably could count the number of times she was out in a restaurant on one hand."

The experience was so positive that Robinson's 10-year-old daughter, Lena, wanted a girl her age to visit this summer, so the Robinsons will host two Fresh Air kids at different times this year.

Aniyah's brother, Antoine Hopkins Jr., also came to New Hampshire last summer to stay with a different family.

The children "were on a big, big whirlwind," Antoine Sr. said.

Aniyah could have used a map for the many road trips she and the Robinsons took.

They hit Hampton Beach, Boston and Story Land in the Bartlett village of Glen, to name a few stops.

"Each day just got better and better," Tanya Robinson said of Aniyah's visit. "Everything we did, she was so appreciative. She had so much fun."

Much of that fun occurred close to the Robinsons' home.

"My favorite thing is going to to the pool," Aniyah said in a phone interview.

That happened on a regular basis, with the Robinsons making daily visits to Sudden Pitch, a Manchester tennis and pool club where Aniyah took swimming and tennis lessons.

Tanya Robinson said two or three families there hosted Fresh Air kids last year, and the idea caught on.

"I honestly think when they saw the way (the Fresh Air kids) interacted with everyone, how happy the kids were, it brought other people to do it this year," she said.

Linda Pomeroy, Greater Manchester volunteer leader for the Fresh Air Fund, said her Fresh Air child, Christopher, made his first visit to New Hampshire when he was 7. Now in high school, Christopher still visits Pomeroy's Mont Vernon home each summer.

"He became part of the family and looks forward to it," said Pomeroy, who keeps in touch with the Bronx teenager throughout the year.

Pomeroy said her two adult children sometimes come along on hikes. Other outings, such as fishing excursions or trips to Water Country in Portsmouth, include other Fresh Air families.

For the Hopkinses, the time Aniyah and her brother spent apart from their parents helped the family grow, Antoine Sr. said.

The separation allowed everyone to become "a little stronger from being away from each other," he said.

Tanya Robinson advised anyone considering hosting a Fresh Air child to sign up.

"Just give it a chance," she said. "I'm pretty certain anybody who does it once would absolutely do it again."

mcousineau@unionleader.com



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