Fresh Air Fund children take in open spaces, new faces in Upper Perkiomen Valley
It isn't something many of them will soon forget.
Stepping off the bus in Perkiomenville, 15 children take a deep breath of country air, happily let the summer breeze tousle their hair and step into the welcoming arms of their host families.
While some are timid, others, who have been here before, can't contain their excitement being reunited with the families who count them as one of their own.
"Some of these families stick with their Fresh Air kids through college and beyond," noted fund representative Julie Smith. "The hope is, no matter what, that these kids will have fun and get to see something different. There's a lot to offer in this area."
Since 1877, The Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer experiences in the country to more than 1.8 million New York City children from low-income communities. This year, the organization is sending kids to host families in Pennsburg, East Greenville, Harleysville, Souderton and beyond for one- to two-week stays.
Jake and Tara Hallman and their three boys, Zeke, Brett and Tice, volunteered to be first-time hosts this year. The boys held a handmade welcome sign for their Fresh Air child, Damarri McMillan.
"We knew a family about 10 years ago who hosted and loved it," Tara Hallman, of Pennsburg, said. "We thought that would be awesome; our boys are at great ages for it. We hope to do a lot of swimming, go to the park, do campfires and spend time at the creek, that kind of thing.
"It's so different here, there's wide open fields, freedom, a place to run, a place to dream, a place to explore. Especially for boys, I think they love adventure. New York City is an adventure too, I'm sure, just a different kind of adventure."
First-time hosts Karen Sivel of East Greenville, and her daughter, Lauren, said they were anxious to meet their Fresh Air child, who visited Maine last summer. They had outings planned to places like the Franklin Institute and Lehigh Valley Zoo.
"I love children and our family thought this would be a great opportunity to let a child see the country," Karen Sivel said.
Smith, who hosted along with her husband and kids for several years, said the host families oftentimes. though, end up being the ones who come away with the most rewarding experience.
"You go into it thinking you're doing something for them, but you end up getting so much more out of it," she explained. "You don't take lightning bugs and locusts for granted anymore; your backyard or s'mores either. It's about appreciating the little things.
"It's neat to see how you can impact somebody. Just for them to know there's somebody else who cares about them; it makes a big difference."
Fresh Air Fund is currently looking for host families in the area for Aug. 12-19. Smith noted single people, empty-nesters and everyone in between is invited to open their home to a child for the week.
For more information, visit freshair.org or call Hannah Beck at 212-897-8890.