Annually the Fresh Air Fund provides free summer experiences in the country to New York City youths who are from disadvantaged communities. Their summer experiences are organized in several ways.
The first is through summer camps in upstate New York. Over 3,000 children enjoy the New York Camps each year. The second way is through career awareness programs that allows youth to see they have more options than what is in front of them.
The third, and final way, a Fresh Air Fund child can be involved in the program is through the Friendly Towns Program. There are Friendly towns in 13 different states from Virginia to Maine and in Canada as well. Orange is part of one of 300 friendly towns. The Fresh Air Fund does not have a typical host family- just anyone with “room in their home...and heart,” can be a host.
Orange falls in the Milford Friendly Town, which covers the majority of the greater New Haven area. Communities like Milford, Orange, Bethany, Woodbridge, Wallingford, and Cheshire all are currently playing host to children from New York.
One of those families is the Sirkis Family of Wallingford. Jere Sirkis, her husband, and two children; Avram (age 4) and Maya (age 7) played host to a Fresh Air child last year. Jere became involved with the Fresh Air Fund because as a child attended a similar program.
The family played host to Honesty last year and this year. Like Maya, Honesty is also 7 years old. The Sirkis Family, with Honesty, will keep busy over the next three weeks on a wide range of activities. They will go to the beach, play at the home pool, go berry picking, and show Honesty the animals on a farm nearby the house.
Normally, host families cannot take their guest out of town on the first year. But since Honesty is with the family for the second year, they were approved to go to Jere’s mother’s house on the New Jersey Shore; they will visit the coast for a week and head back home.
Jere stays in touch with Honesty’s family through Facebook and text message when Honesty is both with her family and the Sirkis House.
Karen Hackett is the Milford Friendly Town Area Chairperson. She is responsible for the program. Hackett, who lives in Bethany, oversees 27 families in the area.
She said the Fresh Air Fund is, “providing kids who wouldn’t normally have this opportunity to run in the grass...” The bus that dropped Honesty and one other child off came from the Port Authority in New York and stopped in Greenwich, Darien, Fairfield, and finally Orange. The Fresh Air Fund has busses leaving daily from the Port Authority. On Tuesday, a bus of 15-20 youth were dropped off in the area as well.
Hackett says they are always looking for new hosts and volunteers. They need volunteers to ride the bus, like a Fresh Air Fund alumni and a member of the host family from when he was a child (both are 19 now). They also need people to visit local schools and hang fliers. To be a host you don’t have to have children, Hackett told Patch. She needs families for a group coming in August if anyone is interested. They also are already lining up families for next summer.
The Fund was founded in 1877 and has given the summer experience to over 1.7 million children. In 1877, there was a tuberculosis epidemic; at the time fresh air was considered a cure for the disease. Many of the original youth in the program were touched by the epidemic.
A Pennsylvania reverend, Willard Parsons, asked his congregation if they would be willing to host a group of youth from New York City- they agreed and by 1881 the organization was growing rapidly. Parson asked for and received support from the New York Tribune and later the New York Times.
For more information on the Fresh Air Fund visit: www.freshair.org