LEWISTOWN - A group of children participating in the Fresh Air Fund from New York City arrived Tuesday at Derry Township Community Park.
The Big Valley Area Committee welcomed the second group of children to visit the area this summer. Volunteer host families, who share their summers for multiple weeks, greeted their Fresh Air children with open hearts and arms.
These children, ages six to 18, "leave behind the city streets to run barefoot in the grass or see the stars at night," according to The Fresh Air Fund. While some are visiting the area for the first time, others are returning to visit the same host families for consecutive summers.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
Ariana Nelson, center, is squeezed by her host mother, Tami Shawver, left, of McVeytown, and Nelson’s sister, Haley Santos, Tuesday as Ariana arrives in Lewistown through the Fresh Air program. Haley has been staying with the Shawver family this summer and now welcomes her sister for the rest of the summer. This is the second summer for the sisters to stay with the Shawvers.
Among the returners was Kayla Simons, 13, of New York City, who will be spending her third summer with Karen Zimmerman, of Oakland Mills, and her family. Arriving earlier in the summer, Simons has been spending the past few weeks with the Zimmermans playing outside and going on adventures, as well as spending time helping out around the house and even learning how to cook.
When asked if she was having a good time, Simons said, "Yep. A lot of fun!"
Zimmerman, who was introduced to The Fresh Air Fund at a young age, cherishes the summers she spent riding bikes and playing in the barn with the host siblings her family brought into her home every summer. Kayla, who is an only child, has been a perfect playmate for her children and a great addition to their family, she said. Zimmerman also said that Fresh Air has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, and that she stays in touch with the children of her past.
"You really do something nice when you host," she said.
The Fresh Air Fund is an independent, not-for-profit agency that has provided free "summer vacations" to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877.
Each summer, more than 4,000 children visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small town communities across 13 states and parts of Canada, according to Brittany Hughes, of The Fresh Air Fund. Fresh Air Fund volunteer host families open their homes to these children for one to two weeks, or more, in the summertime. Host families range in size and background, and live a variety of difference places, from suburban areas to farming communities. There are no financial requirements for hosting a Fresh Air child, and volunteers may request the age-group and gender of the Fresh Air youth they would like to host.
Zimmerman emphasized the fact that big, elaborate trips and special things did not need to be done to be a "good" host family. Most of the children just like being outside and experiencing life outside of the city, she said. Aside from a beach trip, Simons' time with the family is spent doing typical things, giving her, "a taste of life living in the county," according to Zimmerman.
Simons said that the very first time she came to spend a summer in Mifflin County, she was nervous. Though she had the option to choose from several other Fresh Air Camps, she chose to spend her time with a host family.
"I hoped I would get a nice family," she said.
She had no trouble adjusting to life with the Zimmermans and felt very welcomed. Her biggest concern was keeping the doors locked at all times, something she had grown accustomed to in the city, but isn't always found necessary in the country.
Among Simons' favorite activities are learning how to cook and cooking for her host family. She enjoys cooking dinners, and recently was taught how to bake peach cobbler, one of her favorites. Not accustomed to having access to fresh fruits and vegetables, Simons really enjoys eating the ripe produce the area has to offer and especially loves corn, which her host mother says she can't get enough of. She also enjoys swimming, riding bikes and playing the creek nearby her host home.
Simons also enjoys the fact that she doesn't have to walk everywhere. Though there are more activities in the city, she enjoys the peace and quiet of the country. She said that though she isn't used to it being so dark at night, she finds comfort in watching the stars. Simons also likes sharing chore responsibilities with her host family, as opposed to doing everything on her own, like she does at home in New York.
"Going and meeting you always makes me cry," Zimmerman shared with Simons, who smiled in reply.
Zimmerman said that every year Simons grows up a little more, but to them, she is still the same girl. The family is always anxious to see her newest hair style and hear about the things she has been doing in the city.
"Kayla loves to laugh and carry on," Zimmerman said, adding that they always look forward to the fun she brings to their family.
Hosting a child is a very rewarding experience for many families. Zimmerman encourages anyone that is able to try it.
"It's a great memory and family event," she said. One-week trips for Fresh Air children are available, for those that are unsure about the experience.
To learn more about how to become a host family, contact Dana Van Horn, the local volunteer leader for the Big Valley Area, at 463-3342 or visit The Fresh Air Fund online at www.freshair.org. Information on donations and becoming a volunteer can also be found on the website.