The Fresh Air Fund is a non profit that's been around since 1877. The Fresh Air Fund has been giving inner-city children the joy of a summer vacation with volunteer host families for one or two weeks each summer in areas along the east coast outside of NYC. The Fresh Air Fund helps underpriviledged, inner city children create unforgettable memories and fresh possibilities.
My family and I have hosted a child from The Fresh Air Fund for 2 years, this summer will be our 3rd. (Read about our experiences!) The first year, after our interview with a program coordinator from our region, we were eligible to host a child age 6 or older. Due to our oldest being 6, we requested a little girl between 6-8 years of age. 3 weeks before the scheduled arrival of a child, we learned that a family had chosen us from Brooklyn, NY to host their daughter's Fresh Air Fund experience for 2 weeks. Calling her our "summer daughter" from the very start, we made the connection with the parent and spoke with the child as our family excitedly planned for her arrival. We decided these were the 2 weeks of the summer we would endulge in family styled fun, including a weekend mini trip to Storyland in Glen, NH (if you ask, Fresh Air Fund children are offered free passes to certain resorts or local family friendly activities).
Our child arrived tired, dazed and a little overwhelmed by our joyous excitement for her arrival. Our 2 children did a great job at helping her feel at home, giving her a tour and showing her the bed and drawers that would become hers for 2 weeks. She even learned where the laundry and hamper were so that she could easily become a member of the family (she did chores too!)
By the end of the two weeks she was ready to see her family but sad to be leaving. It was clear her experience in the "country" had impacted her and would become a lasting memory for years to come.
The following year we reinvited her. The children took less time assimilating and she went right to all of our animals that first night, saying hello to all her favorite memories. We, again, had a great time and are now reinviting her to stay with us for 2 weeks this summer. She's accepted and is working on obtaining her physician approval and completing her medical forms so that she can be on board the first bus to NH again this year.
Important prep to know:
One of the things we didn't do well the first day of her initial stay was orient her to our family structure. Though she met all of us, due to not having a father figure at home, she wasn't sure where my husband fit in. At first she treated him like a big brother, but was confused by his authority at certain routine times like bedtime and dinnertime. Then she heard me call him "dad" (as I do for our children) and I suppose that might have confused her as well. I quickly realized we needed to establish a baseline for what this father-role in our family was all about. Once we did this, she learned quickly that he was an authoritative adult who is a parent and works equally with me, but is also playful and fun, firm and forgiving. They had a great time together!
She loved the water! We never realized how the ever present nature in our world are actually simple luxuries many of us take for granted. Swimming (though she couldn't on her own) was one of her favorite things to do and we made a point of bringing the children to a local lake almost every night after dinner to play and relax. She asked for this the second year and has already begun talking about it for her third time.
Boundaries are important to establish and while we want to have fun with our Fresh Air Child, we also want to establish a hierarchy from the very beginning so that they are expectedly respectful, appreciative and safe no matter what we do. We are very clear about rules with our own children, but had to set those rules again with our Fresh Air Child before every activity we did, especially if we went in public. The first year there were a few corrections we made that we phrased like this, "in our family we don't use those words" or "in our family we don't do that because it's not appropriate (or not acceptable)". She quickly stopped what was probably ingrained in her, as she aimed to please and we were lucky for this because we offered patient guidance to help her feel successful in her attempts to correct herself. The second year, we never had to re-correct as she already knew what our expectations were.
The 2nd week sometimes feels a little long as the new-ness wears off and the kids begin treating each other like siblings. She would be more needy for my attention as a "mom" and I was more apt to want more space. So to combat this, we always try and plan for fun activities and things to look forward to each day. We tell the children what is on the agenda for the 2 week stay so they have things to look forward to and plan for. I found it easiest when they had a lot of planning, or packing to do, as this bonded the kids and also took a lot of their time. If we were leaving for a weekend camping trip, or planning a bike riding day, I'd have them think about what they wanted to bring and do all of the packing themselves. Less work for me and more time for the kids to focus on something productive.
When all else fails, it's great to split them up and do something special with each of them. Just 15 minutes of 1-1 time goes a long, long way! Movies are great too.
Hope this has been helpful, if you're interested in hosting a Fresh Air Child, please contact the agency soon! They are arriving the first week of July this year. Enjoy and feel free to contact me at any time if you have questions.