Alert “06880” reader — and very generous Westporter Seth Schachter — saw a posting here in January about the Fresh Air Fund. Remembering his parents’ experience with the program, which brings inner-city children to suburban and rural communities many years ago — and their lessons about opening doors to others in need — he decided to participate.
He and his wife just wrapped up a week as hosts to 9-year-old Jonathan, from the Bronx. Seth wants to share his emotions, insights and lessons. He writes:
Of course, we had some reservations and concerns going into this. Would Jonathan get along with our 2 children (Aiden, age 10 and Rebecca, 9)? Would he enjoy a week in our home? Would he get homesick? What would we say to his mom or dad before he arrived, and then during his stay?
Aiden and Rebecca painted “Welcome” signs for Jonathan. We picked him up in Fairfield.
While the week was not without a few bumps (as we expected), Jonathan loved his time in Westport. A few hours after returning home he left us a phone message, asking to come back!
And we definitely enjoyed having him as part of our family. We told him many times how courageous he was for leaving his home to stay with complete strangers.
Aiden had occasional struggles sharing his room for a week, something he’d never done before. I supposed many children would react the same way. It was also a bit hard for him to carve out “alone time.”
A friend of mine recently said that our experience hosting was like a non-stop, 7-day play date. Anyone who has hosted play dates knows that some are easier than others. They often require a little nudging to get kids engaged.
Our week was full of activities. We kept our children out of camp, to allow more quality time together. (Some host families enroll their Fresh Air Fund child in the half- or full-day camps their children are attending.)
We took Jonathan to a few of Westport’s easily-taken-for-granted jewels: the Levitt Pavilion, Compo and Burying Hill Beaches, Longshore pool.
We included some good old-fashioned fun around the house, like slip-and-slide, water gun and water balloon battles, and his first overnight “camping” experience (n a tent he helped set up). He was equally fascinated catching fireflies at dusk.
We ate at the family-friendly Rio Bravo restaurant. Jonathan was amazed we got unlimited free chips and salsa just for sitting down there.
He also devoured treats at one of our favorite places, Saugatuck Sweets.
We took him out on a boat. He loved it, especially steering it at the helm. At the end of that day we had dinner at Johnny Utah’s in SoNo. Aiden, Rebecca and Jonathan all enjoyed riding their first mechanical bull.
We wrapped up our final full day taking the ferry to Port Jefferson. We had lunch, playground fun, and shopping at a mom-and-pop toy store.
We were pretty confident that Jonathan and Aiden would have no problem clicking. But a great surprise all week was seeing Jonathan and Rebecca click too.
Some memorable quotes and observations:
Jonathan asked Aiden why he was reading at home. He said he only reads at school, when he has to. He asked me if I would read “all those words” when he saw me with a newspaper at the beach.
He had never played with Legos, and was surprised that Aiden and Rebecca had created things with them by themselves. They helped Jonathan build a speedboat, which he was very proud of. We learned he spends most of his time at home playing video games.
After being in the Longshore pool for over 4 hours, he looked at his shriveled hands and worried that he had skin cancer. He rarely goes in a pool, and never for such a long time. He learned how to play Marco Polo, and loved it.
As we drove him to Fairfield for the bus that would take Jonathan and other Fresh Air Fund children back to New York, he said, “Everyone has cars around here. I barely see anyone walking.” I explained how hard it is to get around the suburbs without a car — unlike a city, with mass transit everywhere, and so much within walking distance.
Our Westport world is vastly different than Jonathan’s in the Bronx. One of our hopes was that could enjoy a change in scenery, and participating some of the treasures our community offers. We’re certain this was realized.
Another hope was that our children would come away from the experience with a greater respect and appreciation for all that they have, in addition to heightened awareness of those in need. We feel this was accomplished. Who knows — perhaps lifelong friendships were initiated too.
The question for our family is not whether we will take part in the Fresh Air program again — we’re certain we will — but whether or not we will host Jonathan next summer. Families can request the same child up to 18 years old. But Rebecca would really love hosting a girl, so there are some things we have to figure out.
All in all, we thing the program is wonderful. It offers the opportunity to give so much to a child in need. We hope that many of you reading this will think about taking part too. I am happy to talk with anyone about the program, and our experience. Dan can put us in touch.