Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Introducing The Fresh Air Fund - Lehigh Valley

Lehigh Valley Find and Go Seek is proud to introduce a guest blogging series from The Fresh Air Fund Lehigh Valley.  Our First guest blogger tells her incredible Fresh Air story and hopes to inspire more local families to take advantage of this amazing program this summer. 

Little did we know how our life would change when we took a leap of faith and signed up to be a host family for the Fresh Air Fund.  It was October of 2009 and a friend of mine from the Mom’s Club was chatting with me over our burritos at a local lunch spot. I was sharing with her that my husband and I were determined to find a way to ‘give back’ and to involve our young sons, ages eight and three.  She asked if we had looked into hosting a child from NYC through the Fresh Air Fund. I had never heard of it, so I went home that afternoon and went to their website – www.freshair.org.

Here’s what I found … The Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit program that began in 1877, has served over 1.8 million NYC children by providing them with the opportunity to stay with a host family for a week or two in the summer. Children, ages 6-12, qualify financially.  The Fresh Air Fund pays for all transportation and insurance coverage during their visit. The goal is to allow them to escape the concrete jungle for a little bit each summer and allow them to experience new places and activities. Buses arrive locally at Cedar Crest Bible Fellowship Church, just off I-78 and Cedar Crest Blvd.

This seemed like a perfect fit for us! We live on a small farm on South Mountain with chickens, goats, a dog, a bunny, some fish and a couple of lizards. My mom has a horse farm just up the road. Imagine what a child from NYC would be able to experience!

After completing a simple request for information at the FreshAir.org website, we met with a volunteer from the Fresh Air Fund in our home later that fall. She asked us some questions, talked to the boys to make sure they were agreeable to sharing their toys and making a new friend, and did a home inspection to make sure our property was safe.  We completed an application and background check forms.

In March of 2010, we received a call informing us that we had been matched to a boy
named Robert who lives in the Bronx.

He was eight, the same age as my oldest son, and enjoyed science, nature and animals. We were SO excited!! We were given his phone number and email address, so we called him that night. Over the next several months, we were able to chat with Robert and his mom, Angela, and talk about the things we hoped to do when he came to visit.  Robert had never been anywhere outside of his Bronx neighborhood.  He had rarely traveled in a car – using mostly the NYC ‘train’ as he calls it. He had never toasted a marshmallow, gone swimming, ridden a horse, or sat by a bonfire.

We opted for a 10-day trip and found that we couldn’t fit nearly the fun into those 10 days as we’d hoped, but it sure exhausted us. It was a good kind of exhausted!

So many amazing memories were made that first summer with Robert. The boys walked through cornfields, went fishing, played in the yard and spent a LOT of time at the local community pool. Robert couldn’t swim when he first came to us, but he’s a fish now! Going to the pool is his favorite thing to do when he visits. He has no pool to go to in NYC. What fun is summer without splashing in the water?!

Robert has been visiting our family for six years and has even taken the bus over holiday breaks to see us in the ‘off-season.’ We have grown to consider him our Fresh Air son. He is a brother to our boys. He will always be part of our family.

Not only have we built a life-changing relationship with Robert (and our NEW Fresh Air child, Alpha who will be coming for his 2nd summer this year), but also we have been so blessed to meet so many local host families who share the same passion to help others. Our hope is to have 100 Lehigh Valley families host a child this summer and join us in our fun.

Through this experience, we thought we would be the ones ‘giving back,’ only now that we look back on these years with Robert, we realize that he is the one who has given to us. He has taught us so many unexpected lessons.

This wonderful boy, who lives in the ‘projects’ in the Bronx, has shown us his amazing talents in engineering, art and music. He had never played with a single Lego before his first visit, yet he would sit every morning and build amazing, perfectly symmetrical, functioning creations.

His wisdom and hope have driven my husband, Brian, and I to act as volunteers for the Lehigh Valley and Northampton area so we can encourage others (singles, couples and families) to consider taking that leap of faith and bringing a Fresh Air child into their lives.

I always go back to my favorite Dr. Seuss quote, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” If you are interested in learning more about the Fresh Air Fund, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly at LVFreshAir@gmail.com or 484-350-9300. You can ‘like’ our Facebook page to see more fun photos and videos at www.facebook.com/freshairfundlehighvalley. Or go directly to our Fresh Air Fund website at www.freshair.org and read about all the neat ways this long-standing non-profit has changed the lives of over 1.8 million NYC children.


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