Weston has become a vacation destination for a few of New York City’s children this summer. The Fresh Air Fund, a program that provides children from low-income urban communities with the opportunity to spend time in the countryside, has once again had a successful season in Connecticut.
Throughout the summer months, 10 host families in Weston have opened their homes to children between the ages of six and 18, who spent up to two weeks soaking up Weston life.
The Fresh Air Fund has been around since 1877, and has given more than 1.7 million New York City children free vacations. In its 136th season, families in suburban communities throughout 13 participating states — from Virginia to Maine — continue to impact and be impacted by these summer visitors.
Westonite Martha Mintzer, a veteran host and member of the Fresh Air Fund, took on a leadership role with the program this year. As a Fresh Air Fund committee chairman, she took on the responsibility of overseeing the host families in southwestern Connecticut in addition to hosting a child of her own.
Ms. Mintzer has a long history with the Fresh Air Fund. Growing up in Westchester County, N.Y., her family would host children brought in by the program during the summer. For the past six years, she has participated with the program in Weston and thoroughly enjoyed her experiences.
“I get as much out of it as they do,” she said.
There were more than 200 host families in the southwestern region of Connecticut participating in the program this year. Ms. Mintzer was responsible for interviewing all the families who applied to be a part of the program, figuring out travel logistics, and helping host families to work out problems that may have arisen once visitors arrived.
According to Ms. Mintzer, there were very few problems with the Fresh Air Fund this summer and all host families were highly committed to the program.
All of the children who participate in the program have families that display a level of financial need.
When they arrive, host families engage their visitors in activities they wouldn’t be able to experience at home. This may mean going on a trip to the movies, spending time outdoors, or even signing up the visitor for a week of summer camp.
This summer, Camp Mahackeno in Westport allowed a Fresh Air Fund visitor to attend camp alongside a child from a host family.
Ms. Mintzer once hosted a boy from the city named Jesus who had never been to the movies before.
“These are the extreme financial conditions Fresh Air Fund children come from,” said Ms. Mintzer.
This year, Ms. Mintzer hosted a 12-year-old girl named Massou Traore from the Bronx, N.Y. Massou has been involved with the Fresh Air Fund since she was six years old and had experience living with several host families in the past. The Mintzer family took Massou to the movies, a swimming pool, Six Flags, and her favorite activity, a “Make and Mingle” arts and crafts event.
“I’ve had a great time here and with all of the host families I’ve spent time with in the past,” said Massou. “I’m going to try and continue the program with the Mintzer family again next year.”
If Fresh Air Fund children have good experiences with their host families, they are encouraged to apply to be with that family in years to come.
Any family may apply to host a Fresh Air Fund child. Although the majority of host families have children of the same age as the Fresh Air Fund visitor, this is not at all necessary.
According to Ms. Mintzer, all different types of families may serve as hosts.
“I’ve seen single parents do it, older parents whose children are in college, it doesn’t matter as long as the family can open their homes and hearts to these children,” she said. “We’re always looking for hosts.”
At this point in the summer, it is too late for new hosts to join the program, as most of the Fresh Air Fund children have gone home for the summer. However, Ms. Mintzer encourages those interested in hosting next summer to apply early, when the program begins its interviewing process this coming winter.
For more information about the Fresh Air Fund, visit freshair.org.