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Fresh Air child is part of the family
By: JACQUELINE WATSON Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
Although the Fresh Air Fund refers to them as a host family, it is doubtful that Dwayne and Sharon Hoover would refer to their Fresh Air Fund visitor, 11-year-old Donye Hardy, as a houseguest. With this being the sixth summer Donye has visited the Hoovers, he is more like family.
Reverend Willard Parsons of Pennsylvania implemented his plan for the Fresh Air Fund in 1877. Over the years, it has grown into the organization it is today with over 9,000 students annually participating in their numerous programs throughout thirteen states and two countries. These programs include Fresh Air Fund camps, educational programs, and visits to volunteer families who open their homes to the children. Depending on the prior agreement of the children and the host family with the Fresh Air Fund, these visits can last anywhere from two weeks to the majority of the summer.
Host families are screened for safety purposes, but are not required to have fancy cars or expensive hobbies to give children a fun vacation away from the big city. Through volunteers and donations, the Fresh Air Fund is able to offer these opportunities free of charge to children of New York City.
According to the Hoovers, Donye was never the uncomfortable houseguest they had to tiptoe around or readjust their schedules to fully entertain. Even from his first visit, he fit right into the Hoover family. Whether they’re running errands, attending church or spending time with relations, Donye contentedly accompanies the family.
"He kind of considers this his second home…He fit right into our family," said Dwayne Hoover.
"It’s never a hard adjustment with him here. There’s never ‘oh you’re not from this family.’ It’s family," commented Sharon Hoover later adding, "He always comes full of enthusiasm. There’s not really a major adjustment period, so to speak. It’s like you just fall right into the synch of things."
Both Donye and the Hoovers look forward to their visits together every summer. This year, schedules allowed for him to stay with the Hoovers for four weeks. Although he is only able to come in the summer, he stays in contact with the family throughout the year. For Donye, the question of why he keeps coming back is not complicated. "Because I’m family," answers Donye simply.
Donye is described by Sharon Hoover as a little gentleman from the first year on. He is considered a positive example and playmate for the Hoovers two sons, Deric and Dustin.
"We know that his adopted family in New York is doing a great job with him. He’s very mature, but he’s also a kid at heart. He’s a big help," Sharon Hoover observed of Donye.
Donye does not waste his time out of the big city sitting inside watching television. Instead, he uses the opportunity to play in the Hoover’s backyard and spend time with the family. The Hoover’s location and lifestyle allow Donye the flexibility and space to be active. Imaginative and energetic, the three boys come in from outside — the youngest, Dustin, crowned with a pirate hat. The two older boys, Donye and Deric, present business cards they fashioned out of cardboard to advertise their fictional businesses.
Dwayne and Sharon are not the first members of the Hoover family to open their home to Fresh Air Fund kids. Dwayne Hoover can remember his parents before him participating in the program when he was younger. Even now, Dwayne and Sharon Hoover’s parents participate by spending time with the family while Donye is in town.
Sharon points out that the longevity of the FAF program’s existence is a witness to its stableness and effectiveness. She notes that even if someone were to have problems after entering the program, the organization and the local director Barbara Horst are very supportive. She realizes that hosting FAF kids may not be for everyone, but based on her experiences, encourages others to participate.
"It’s not like an ‘oh, you’re an extra, okay what do we do with you,’ you’re just part of the family. We deal with everything together and there’s really no words to describe that feeling of rewarding…you’re welcoming someone into your home and loving them, and they’re just part of you," said Sharon earlier noting, "Something that we both desire is to be there for kids and the Fresh Air fund is definitely a way…just feel like it’s a leading that we have through God to do that."
Opening their home to Donye gives the Hoovers a chance to enrich his life by sharing theirs. This includes everything from their yard, to their daily errands and their faith. It is thanks to the hospitality and willingness of families like the Hoover family that the Fresh Air Fund has continued to have an impact over the years. More FRESH AIR, page A16