The Fresh Air Fund joined forces with Adventureland and some local host family Monday night to provide inner city children with a summer experience they deserve, complete with Ferris wheel rides, carnival games and a dinner to top it off.
Since 1877, the organization has placed children from disadvantaged communities with host families across 13 states. For one or two weeks, the families and their new additions participate in summer activities, such as camping and swimming, and enjoy spending quality time with one another.
A day at the Farmingdale amusement park was but one scheduled event for the 21 Long Island families , including several from the Town of Oyster Bay who participated in the program.
“Not only are you giving children fresh air, but they also give something to you,” Jacqueline Shapiro, Fresh Air Fund volunteer leader, said as families gathered at the park’s patio for hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken fingers.
Renne Stenger, a Massapequa resident, made sure her daughter Julia and host child Kyah were situated at a table with their desired dishes, showing equal consideration as if they were both her biological children.
“My daughter was volunteering handing out flyers and asked her dad what the Fresh Air Fund is and why can’t we do it, and I said we can,” Stenger, a second-year participant said, “It’s about learning different points of view and learning to get along with different people [and] having a nice friendship.”
The two girls sat next to each other, rattling off the various events that took place while Kyah, a Brooklyn native, was in town: swimming, going to the beach, block parties, movies and more.
“It’s awesome,” Kyah said between bites.
Lisa Haime, of Old Bethpage, had similar thoughts when deciding to participate in the Fresh Air Fund. She has been hosting a 9-year-old Bronx boy, Abraham, since last Wednesday.
“He went boogey boarding for the first time,” Haime said. Though playing in the waves is something familiar to her son, it was an experience that Abraham might not have had otherwise.
“We’re cramming a lot in,” she continued, “Rock climbing, bowling … From my viewpoint it’s eye opening. I think it’s a great experience to give him this opportunity that he wouldn’t have had and to [show him] what life can be like. And it doesn’t take much on my part.”
She and her husband waited outside mini roller coaster rides as Abraham sped by and her son stood alongside the attraction, pretzel at hand.
Haime also delved into the violence in Abraham’s neighborhood, such as shootings outside of his family’s apartment building and bullying at school.
Addressing these diffucult issues take the relationships between host families and children a bit further.
“He’s really smart,” Haime said adding that she's is trying to explain to Abraham that if he works hard he does not have to stay in the same, crime-ridden place.
The relationships seem to exceed The Fresh Air Fund’s intensions.
A strong mother-daughter-like bond developed for Michelle Thompson and 13-year-old Araceli Arenas, the young girl she has been hosting for eight years.
“I hope to influence her to go to college,” Thompson said.
Shapiro said that roughly 65% of children return to the program, helping strong connections and influential advice return with the child to his or her hometown.
Eileen Rauchenberger, a Syosset native who once worked for the organization, also took on the role as a participant. She has been hosting two young girls, Veronica and Korina, for four years.
“I just want them to have fun, enjoy the outdoors, experience things,” she said. The girls tagged along with the rest of the family through kayaking and boat trips out east.
“It’s very positive, always. They’re great kids and it’s great for my kids,” Rauchenberger added.
Shapiro said without hesitation that 2012 has been a successful season.
“Even if we come from different cultures, we can share and enjoy the same things,” she said, “It’s just fun and a breath of fresh air.”