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Host families: Breathing Fresh Air into summer in Weston

Summertime is about swimming in the pool, riding a bike, or just relaxing outside.

Essence, a Fresh Air child from the Bronx, N.Y., found her summer getaway gardening in the backyard with Euna and Steven Filchock in Weston. Through The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program, the Filchocks have welcomed Essence into their home since 2011. Simple summertime experiences and a family with welcoming arms gave Essence and the Filchocks two weeks they would never forget.

This past summer was the first time Westonites Dawn Kelk and her husband John Withington hosted a Fresh Air child. With summer 2012 fast approaching, the Withingtons are excited to have eight-year-old Skylynn of Brooklyn back for another 10-day visit.

Ms. Kelk said everyone involved benefits from The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program. “The kids gain so much on both ends. I gained a lot of satisfaction from helping somebody else, watching another child grow, and our daughter Rianne gained a broader world understanding beyond the town of Weston.”

Through The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program, families from Virginia to Maine and Canada open their homes to New York City children from low-income communities. Since 1877, The Fresh Air Fund has given the joy of a free summer vacation to more than 1.7 million inner-city children, creating thousands of childhood memories in rural, suburban and small town communities every year.

Rewarding

After attending an informational meeting about The Fresh Air Fund, Ms. Filchock knew she wanted to host a Fresh Air child. “As a parent, it is such a rewarding experience to do something so personal for someone else. I knew it would be an experience that my family and I could all learn and benefit from together,” she said.

Essence fell right into place in the Filchock home.

“There was no adjustment period at all. Just put them on a tire swing together — it doesn’t take much for children at all,” Ms. Filchock said.

Ms. Kelk found out about The Fresh Air Fund through the local Parent Teacher Organization newsletter. She thought it would be a great way to give an inner-city child a brand new summer experience, while also teaching her daughter important life lessons.

“I wanted to give Rianne an awareness of how other people live. I wanted to teach her not to be judgmental but to appreciate what she has,” Ms. Kelk said.

When Sky — or “Skybaby” as Ms. Kelk calls her — visits the Withingtons, they spend a lot of time adventuring outside. They hike, kayak and swim, and Ms. Kelk also placed Rianne and Sky in the wildlife day camp, Earthplace, in Westport, where both girls learned about the natural creatures and habitats around them.

Last summer, the family also gave Sky the quintessential childhood experience of learning to ride a bike. “Pretty much everything she did with us was a new experience for her. It’s neat to see her flourish with it. And, I love seeing the confidence that she gains and to see her smile.”

The Withingtons have kept in touch with Sky throughout the school year, and Sky has already visited Weston twice since last summer. At Christmas, Ms. Kelk and Rianne picked Sky up for a quick visit where she and Rianne had a great time decorating gingerbread houses. Then, during the warm Easter break, Sky revisited the family and she was able to scooter, Rollerblade, and her new favorite activity, ride a bike.

Simple things

Essence and the Filchock children spent their days together at the Weston Field Club, where they went swimming, played tennis and took art classes.

But it was the simple things that made Essence’s experience so memorable. “She was so eager to help in the vegetable garden. She set such a great example for my children,” said Ms. Filchock. “I am so grateful for having the chance to affect someone’s life so positively.”

Ms. Kelk said that hosting a child can help families appreciate all of the things they have. It allows both the host family, as well as the Fresh Air child, to leave their regular routine and try something new. She believes that anybody can be a host parent, and everyone should try to host a Fresh Air child.

“There should be at least one host family in every classroom. How far wrong can you go with a seven-year-old girl or boy?”

The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency, is always seeking host families to enable as many New York City children as possible to benefit from a summer vacation outside of the city.

To learn more about how to become a host family in Weston, contact Martha Mintzer, the local volunteer leader for the Southwest Coast area, at 203-226-6627 or visit freshair.org.

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