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A lifetime of Fresh Air
By: BETH KACHEL Review Correspondents, Staff Writer
Fresh Air. Bare feet. Bike rides. Swimming. Sounds like a normal summer day in the country.
But for a kid growing up in New York City where gunshots, asphalt and broken glass abound, it’s like a scene from another world.
Enter the Fresh Air Fund, which has brought these two worlds together for 1.9 million children since 1877 by matching kids from disadvantaged inner city homes with rural families across the Northeast.
Close to 5,000 children will have a Fresh Air Fund vacation this summer, about 150 of that group coming to Lancaster County, said Barb Horst, Fund representative for the County. Still, she added, there are 900 more children who have signed up, but are waiting for lack of a host family.
Yvette, 10, hailing from the Bronx, is one of the lucky ones. She has stayed with Lonnie and Gale Prosser, Ephrata, with their children, Jodi, 20, and Chris, 18, as a Fresh Air child for the past two summers.
"She rode a bike down a hill for the first time ever," shared Jodi, of Yvette’s glee at the new experiences she shared with their family. "She was so shocked when I told her that it was safe to walk outside at night because nobody gets shot here."
Yvette stayed with the Prossers from June 30 to July 13, and delighted in the simple things that they did together as a family, said Jodi, like fishing in the Cocalico Creek, swimming at Refreshing Mountain Camp and playing ping-pong and computer games at home. Jodi even taught Yvette to knit, and helped her craft a special gift to take home.
"Let the child come and be yourself," advises Jodi, a junior social work major at Philadelphia Biblical University, "you can take them places if you want to, but you can just hang out with them, they love that."
"There are a lot of hurting kids out there," said Jodi, "and they need people to invest in them."
The Prossers have hosted Fresh Air children for the past four summers, but their involvement goes back even further to when Gale was a teen and her family hosted a Fresh Air child for a few years. Both Gale and Jodi agree that if their schedules permit, they’ll host again next summer.
That is good news for Barb Horst, who has been the Fresh Air Fund representative for Lancaster County for the past 25 years. The number of host families has been slowly declining, she said. Last year, Lancaster families hosted 200 children; but that number fell sharply lower to around 150 children who will visit this summer over four different time slots.
Host families can choose a one or two-week option and need simply to offer a safe and welcoming home-away-from-home during the child’s visit. For the Prossers, that meant giving Yvette a pull-out mattress in Jodi’s room and spending lots of time swimming and biking together. For other families, it may mean going to one of over 30 local attractions, like Hersheypark and Dutch Wonderland, which give free or reduced admission to Fresh Air children. The Fresh Air Fund, said the Prossers, also plans events like a group picnic and cow milking demonstration.
There is still time to give a child a Fresh Air vacation this summer. The last Fresh Air buses are scheduled to arrive in this area for visits from July 27 to Aug. 4 and Aug. 11 through Aug. 22. Interested families should contact Barb Horst at 859-1994 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Horst began her involvement with the Fund as a host 40 years ago and will welcome an 18-year-old into her home once again this summer. Her summer just wouldn’t be complete without the children, she said.
"The advantage is to know you’ve done something for this child," she said.
When rural Pennsylvania minister Willard Parsons first came up with the idea in 1877, city kids needed fresh air to combat the respiratory illness tuberculosis, which was sweeping through crowded city tenements.
Today, it’s so much more than just clean air, added Gale Prosser.
"It’s also a breath of fresh air for them," she said, "an opportunity to see that life is lived differently than the hustle and bustle and…difficulties of city life."
"I would definitely encourage people to do it," said Jodi. "It’s not going to always be easy…but it’s so worth it the way you impact the kids’ lives and the way they impact yours."
Families can learn more about the Fresh Air Fund by checking out the group’s website freshair.org or visiting them on Facebook at facebook.com/freshairfund. More FRESH AIR, page A6