Fresh Air celebrates summer

FERRISBURGH — At Button Bay State Park on Monday evening, a dozen small children ran around in swimsuits and bare feet, unfazed by the steady rain.
Andrea Viera of Lincoln smiled and looked across the crowd to Elias Stedman, a seven-year-old from Brooklyn, N.Y., who is finishing up a two-week stay in Vermont sponsored by the Fresh Air Fund. For two days after he arrived, she said, Elias kept his shoes on, but after watching Viera’s three children, Kayla, Jake and Nate, walk around shoeless, he decided to try it as well.
“Now he’s barefoot all the time,” she said.
The rainy weather meant that fewer host families than expected turned out for the picnic, but according to Marion Sullivan, chairwoman of the Fresh Air Fund in Western Vermont, area families are hosting a total of 51 children from New York City this summer, most for between one and two weeks.
These 51 are just a few of the almost 10,000 children from disadvantaged communities in New York City that the Fresh Air Fund sends out of the city each summer, either to families in suburban and rural communities between Virginia and Canada or to camps north of the city.
Teresa Smith of Panton was at the picnic with her children, Hunter and Maddy, plus 10-year-old Brianna, who is from Brooklyn. The family had spent the past week traveling around Vermont, going swimming in rivers and hearing Brianna’s observations about the difference between life in Panton and Brooklyn.
Smith said Brianna was already planning on coming back next summer.
“She’s so funny,” said Smith. “We get as much out of it as she does.”
Smith said that she had been drawn to the 133-year-old organization because her family had hosted Fresh Air Fund children while she was growing up.
Viera had also gotten involved because of childhood memories — she said there was always a Fresh Air Fund child at her aunt’s farmhouse in western New York during the summers. This is her family’s fourth summer hosting a child, and it is Elias’s first Fresh Air summer.
“A huge part for him is learning to live with siblings,” said Viera — until Elias’s little brother was born three months ago, he had spent his life as an only child.
Getting to know his three host siblings, as well as the children of several friends of the family, was almost more of an adjustment than going barefoot, camping out and swimming in the river — which, he found, was much colder than the pools he was used to, Viera said.
And Elias was certainly adjusting to many of the other outdoor options available at the picnic — after swimming in the pool and playing on the playground, his was one of the many small faces that lit up at the mention of s’mores.
Micah Lee watched the group of children roast marshmallows. She has had Fresh Air Fund siblings in the summers since she was 8 years old, ever since her mother, Marion Sullivan, became involved with the organization. Now 27 and living in Virginia with an infant daughter of her own, she plans to host a child next summer.
“It’s the highlight of your summer,” said Lee, remembering growing up with Fresh Air Fund children. “You look forward to summer camp, and your Fresh Air brother or sister.”
She said she has kept in touch with many of her Fresh Air siblings over the years, which has been easier because of e-mail and Facebook.
“It’s great to watch what (your siblings) grow and become,” said Lee.
On Monday, Lee and Sullivan were both looking forward to a visit from Yemaya, one of the first children that the family hosted. Yemaya came to Lee’s brother’s wedding last year, and this time she is bringing her own fiancée to introduce to Sullivan, Lee and the whole family.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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