So how about some Fresh Air?

By on July 27, 2016
Brielle Brock greets Justine with a big hug.

Brielle Brock greets Justine with a big hug.

After their two oldest children went off on their own, Lora and Ron Brock, of Ephrata, found a way to bypass the empty nest; they added another chick.

The Brocks are the parents of Brittany and Brandon, who are both currently serving in the U.S. Air Force, and Brielle, who is 14.

Five years ago, when their youngest daughter was nine, the Brocks decided to host a Fresh Air child and Justine came into their lives.

With few children Brielle’s age in their neighborhood, the couple thought it might be nice for their daughter to have a friend and to learn about other people at the same time.

“We felt it would be fun to hit the ‘pause’ button and become a tourist in our own town; to look at everything through someone else’s eyes,” Lora Brock said. “We also wanted to open our home to a child who has maybe never seen a farmer’s field.”

Justine hails from Brooklyn, and is used to a totally different lifestyle than their own, Brock said.

That first visit turned out so well that the Brocks have requested Justine each year since then, making this her fifth summer with her host family.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth and maturity in that time,” Brock said.

The first year Justine came to visit, she couldn’t swim, Brock recalled. Lessons ensued, and pool time has become an anticipated part of each visit.

“It’s been fun to watch her learn and continue to improve,” Brock said. “It’s phenomenal, because it really is like riding a bike. Each year when she returns, she’s still a good swimmer.”

Brock became friends with Justine’s mom through Facebook, and the two have shared photos of their families.

“That’s been fun, to follow along, to see what Justine’s doing during the year,” Brock said.

The two girls have also written letters to each other over the years.

“I never would have imagined this friendship for my daughter,” Brock said. “We really look forward to her visits and we miss her when she’s not here. She’s got such an infectious laugh and a bubbly personality.”

The Fresh Air Fund began 140 years ago to provide New York City children with an outdoor summer experience. It’s been around nearly that long in Lancaster County, said Martha Weaver, Lancaster County Fund representative.

“We have a lot of families like that (the Brocks),” Weaver said. “There are so many good relationships that come out of the program.”

While kids have been coming to Lancaster County for more than 100 years, times are changing, and less kids are arriving because fewer families are available, Weaver said.

This year, three groups of children have arrived, with another group coming in August, for a total of about 100 children.

“We still get a good number of children, but we don’t have as big a base of farm families as we used to and fewer moms are at home,” Weaver said.

This is the first year that Fresh Air Fund representatives have had to increase the screening all host families undergo for the state’s updated child abuse prevention clearances, Weaver said.

Rather than doing outreach to try to include more families in the program, time has been spent getting the clearance of current host families up to snuff.

“Hopefully, by next year, we’ll have this under our belt and it will be better,” Weaver said.

The Fresh Air Fund has a few set dates from which families can choose, and each visit runs about 12 days.

“We’ve been discussing as a family (having more time)…we’d like her to come back next month because 12 days is not enough,” Brock said.

Over the course of a few years, traditions have already bloomed. As soon as Justine gets off the bus from New York, the family heads for pizza at Roma’s in downtown Ephrata.

For the first few minutes it may be a little quiet as everybody reconnects, but it doesn’t take long before a shared meal breaks down barriers, Brock said.

“Any anxiety is gone and the walls come tumbling down,” Brock said. “That first year as a Fresh Air family, we were nervous, but then you see they just act like two little girls, happy to see each other, and their friendship has blossomed through the years.”

Justine always notices how quiet it is in Lancaster County, Brock said. The city girl does not like bugs, quakes when they’re buzzing around her, and is “not a fan” of fields being fertilized due to that ‘country air,’ Brock added.

Each visit contains a few highlights, like swimming in the pool at Refreshing Mountain Camp, attending a show at Lancaster’s Sight and Sound, going to Knoebel’s amusement park, and Cherry Crest Farm and the maze at Strasburg.

“She joyfully accepts anything we have planned for the day,” Brock said. “She loves baking and likes to bake things to take home. She takes so much pride in that. She also brings gifts to us and that is so endearing.”

But the visit doesn’t have to be all about special entertainment, Brock said. Sometimes they visit the library, play some Wii games, or have a tea party.

Justine attends a charter school in Brooklyn and Brielle will be a freshman at Ephrata High School.

On tap is a possible visit to meet Justine’s mom and visit her in Brooklyn.

“We hope to have her year after year and then, we’d love to work something out so we can have her as a part of the family as long as we can,” Brock said.

No new families are being accepted this summer due to the deadline for clearances, Weaver said. But she’s eager to add more families next year, because the benefits to both the visiting children and local families are substantial.

“It’s giving them a break from city life,” Weaver said. “They can run and enjoy themselves and they get to know what our lives are like here. And, it’s a cross-cultural experience for the families.”

Children must be seven to enter the program and can continue until they are 18, if they are returning to the same host family.

“There are so many people I’ve run into that say they’d like to do this &tstr; but don’t,” Brock said. “It does take a little bit of effort, but it is so worth it, because life is so different for Justine in Brooklyn.”

Justine recently turned down a trip to Puerto Rico with her family so she could come to Lancaster County to visit the Brock family instead.

“I think that says it all,” Brock said. “But we’re the blessed ones.”

For more information, go to: FreshAir.org or call Martha Weaver at 354-2106.

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