Editorial: ‘A summer can last a lifetime’

Israel Dudley’s experience living with a Middlebury family through the Fresh Air Fund is as heart-warming as any story could be. An inner-city youth from Brooklyn, he first came to Vermont as a 11-year-old to live with the Matt and Deborah Dickerson family, who at the time had three sons at their rural home in Bristol.
Israel would spend the next four summers with the Dickerson family, becoming close to his new-found brothers and family. He did all the things the program hopes to provide: learned how to swim, petted farm animals, went fishing with Matthew Dickerson (a computer science professor at Middlebury College), enjoyed biking with Deborah, going to the Addison County Fair and Field Days with the family, and playing football and basketball outside with the Dickerson’s three sons. Add the trips to Burlington to watch Lake Monster’s baseball games and other family outings, and Dudley was introduced to what was a very different way of life.
“There’s just a lot going on (in Brooklyn),” he recalled in the story that starts on Page 1 in today’s Addison Independent. “When I was growing up the things that I saw were drug deals, alcohol, violence, things like that … Things were different in Vermont.”
Years later and now 26, Dudley will be a senior at Castleton University next year majoring in psychology, and he still considers the Dickerson’s family. To add emphasis to that statement, this past February he served as best man at one of the Dickerson’s son’s wedding.
This summer Dudley is in Manhattan working as a communications intern with the Fresh Air Fund, which has brought his connection to the Dickerson’s into clear focus. “The tagline of the Fresh Air Fund right now is ‘Because a summer can last a lifetime,’” Dudley said. “When I look at my relationships with the Dickersons, the relationships that I have formed over the years with the parents and the brothers, that’s exactly what that message captures: relationships that have lasted a lifetime, and I’m so grateful for that.”
As for the Dickerson family, Matthew summed up what the program also brings to host families. “I think we maybe benefitted more than he did from getting to know him, learning from his experiences and seeing his generosity and his good character, his ability to enjoy life, to not be dependent on a lot of possessions to be able to enjoy things.”
Stories like this are why the Fresh Air Fund has been the success that it is since its start in 1877. For more information, see www.freshair.org.

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