Lingering snow may be on the ground with more in the forecast, and many are counting down the days until the beginning of spring, but Marie Athans is already thinking about summer.
She hopes residents interested in hosting an inner city child for a week or two will join her on March 20, the first day of spring, for a Fresh Air Fund Day Get-Together at Franco’s Pizza & Pasta to learn more about the nonprofit organization that provides the free summer vacation to the city children that will “introduce them to the joys of country life,” states a recent release. The get-together will be between 4 and 6 pm, with free pizza and surprises for children.
Involved with the organization and often hosting vacationing children, Ms Athans said, “It definitely gives [the children] a different perspective on life.”
She recalled that during a recent conference in New York, one young man spoke about the “wonderful experience” he had through the Fresh Air Fund.
With that young man in mind, she said, “When you live in the city, you don’t have a yard, sleigh riding…” Ms Athans found it “very rewarding” that “someone somewhere gave him the opportunity to see there is more than what the inner city life has to offer.”
Of the difference the opportunity provides the city children, she said, “Even if you can’t see it or measure it, you can watch them roast marshmallows or listen to the sounds of the night and explain it’s an owl and to see the expressions on their face as they learn the things you take for granted.”
Opening her home every summer, she said, “It happens to me every year. There is something [the child] is getting out of this.”
She spoke of a “feeling of inner reward; letting a child live in your household for a week or two, it feels so good. That’s why I do it. I am making a difference.”
The Fresh Air Fund is always looking for new host families, she said, and strengthening and building the Newtown Friendly Town, a term to describe a regional area where host families are located. Included in the Newtown Friendly Town are Oxford, Seymour, Monroe, Shelton, and Trumbull. A total of 22 families in this region participated last year.
Volunteer host families are needed, as well as volunteers for other activities, Ms Athans said.
Andrea Nathans, her husband Edward Bratter, and their daughter Ali have welcomed a child in the past, and plan to open their home again.
In a recent e-mail Ms Nathans said that she and her husband “have a strong philosophy of giving back.” They have also had similar experiences to the Fresh Air Fund when hosting au pairs or exchange students, “So our family is accustomed to strangers coming to stay with us.”
She saw an ad in The Newtown Bee last spring for Fresh Air, she said, which prompted her to apply.
“I wanted a girl around my daughter’s age as I thought it would be more fun for both of them — to plan activities and spend time together,” Ms Nathans wrote.
Unsure what to expect, the family kept an open mind. They were matched with Danell from Manhattan. “She just happened to like dancing, like my daughter Ali.”
When Danell arrived, “it felt immediately like she had been with us for months. She was sweet, extremely polite, flexible, and pleasant. We just adored having her and she was happy and grateful to be here.”
Danell and Ali “were like sisters from the moment they met.” Ms Nathans said, “I’m sure it’s not always so easy, but I think the kids are well prepared to follow rules and do what they need to do to blend into families.”
They did do many “country” things like hiking in the woods, canoeing down a river, and going to a waterfall and swimming, Ms Athans said. “But mostly, Danell was just happy to be with our family and in our home and we were so happy to have her.”
The family invited Danell back in December for a visit.
“We picked her up in New York and she spent Christmas and New Year’s with us,” she continued. “When we dropped her back off we met her mom and sister, who were equally lovely.”
The family keeps in touch with Danell.
“We will definitely host her again through Fresh Air and plan to have a long-term relationship with this lovely, special young lady. It was just a pleasure having her!” said Ms Nathans, who added she highly recommends the experience.
Franco’s Pizza & Pasta is at 228 South Main Street in Newtown, in Sand Hill Plaza. Contact Marie Athans at 203-426-7137.
Learn more about the Fresh Air Fund, its host programs, and how to apply at FreshAir.org.