Breath of Fresh Air

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Fresh Air Fund gives inner-city children trips to the countryside with host families. Laura Laub, a Fresh Air volunteer host, and Jenny Morgenthau, executive director of The Fresh Air Fund, share their experiences with the program.


Laura Laub and Jenny Morgenthau

Comments [17]

Marion from Vermont

Sue, I am so sorry to hear about your situation and feel bad that you felt that you weren't given the help that you needed to work through the situation. I volunteer with FAF in our local area and have worked with many families over the years who have needed assistance in dealing with situations that come up.

If suggestions and advice don't help, often moving the child to a different home can be the solution, not because the first home was "bad", but simply because sometimes the dynamics of a different family work better for the child.

Fresh Air has a full-time, 24-7 support services department which is in place to help in such a time as this. Your local rep could have contacted them for you to see if more help could have been given.

As a host parent for 18 years, I want to suggest to you to give it another chance next year. We hear of thousands of fantastic life experiences over the 133 years it has been going on. I'd be most happy to talk with you further about this.

Jul. 19 2009 10:41 PM
Sue from NJ

We were first time Fresh Air hosts and had a girl that was a year older (8) than my daughter (almost 7). We were all very excited. They did not get along from the begininng and I felt that the FAF girl was bullying my daughter and several times acted aggressively. She was frequently defiant towards me and increasingly difficult to be around for all of us. My daughter asked me on several ocassions to have our guest leave. The second time the FAF girl reduced my daughter to tears I arranged for her to go home the next morning. She lasted 8 stressful days. While we were going through this, I searched the internet and the FAF literature for suggestions on how to improve the situation or stories from others who had problems and found nothing. The organizer in our area offered some suggestions (consequences for certain behaviors), but I found them difficult to implement in the midst of what felt like chaos. The grandmother of the FAF girl said I should have called her early in the visit and maybe she could have helped. There should be more information out there on how to problem solve certain situations, especially behavioral ones, that may arise and it should be included in the literature before the child arrives. She just left today and I am still dealing with conflicting feelings of guilt and relief. I know it is a great program, but they need to offer more concrete resources for families about what to do when behavioral problems arise.

Jul. 17 2009 11:21 PM
Peter from Brooklyn, NY

Hi Marian,

Yes, I'm the same Peter that posted the comment. I have such fond memories of my days spent in New England as a child. Coming from East Flatbush in Brooklyn and spending the summer (yes, sometimes 8 weeks with the host family) in the 'country' was truly a rewarding experience and the fact that lasting relationships formed along the way is a testimony to how successful this program is.

Jul. 16 2009 02:21 PM
Craig Laub from NYC

Thank you to Brian for helping this great organization with increasing its visibility. 10 days with a family in the suburbs for an inner city kid is a straight-forward concept, but the benefits for both the visitor and host family are substantially more than just fresh air. As a host family, my kids have learned to truly appreciate how fortunate they are, and my wife and I have developed a deeper understanding of how education, econonmic and social programs really don't support a whole swath of the population as well as they should. It's a wonderful opportunity to learn and to help.

Jul. 16 2009 10:10 AM
Marion from Vermont

Thanks, Peter. Are you the same Peter as Peter McKeever commenting above?

We have kept in touch with so many of our FAF brothers and sisters, in fact, we attended our "son's" high school graduation, went to his mother's wedding, and recently when our son got married, our FAF daughter flew up to be at the wedding with us and our FAF son took the train to attend the local reception. We are truly blessed by this program, and currently we have a busload in our area with another busload coming in a few weeks. the kids are great--the experiences last a lifetime.

Jul. 15 2009 05:40 PM
Peter from Brooklyn

Thanks Marian, for the backup. It truly is a wonderful program.

Jul. 15 2009 09:47 AM
Marion from Vermont

Please get your facts straight when you write comments. I have been a host mom for 18 years and a volunteer chairperson for FAF for 4 years.

Yvonne, background checks are done on every single person in the home who is over 18.

Bint, where did you ever come up with the idea that boys can come till they are 15 and girls only till they are 12? The first time a child comes to a family, they are between 6-12 years old and all children can continue to go to a host family until they are 18. The gender makes no difference in the age limits.

Elisa, yes, gay/lesbian families can host.

This is such a wonderful program. It's been around 132 years so something must be going right. You don't have to be rich or live in a fancy house to host. We have host families from all kinds of backgrounds and economic levels.

We have had wonderful experiences with all 6 of our children we have hosted. Our family has been blessed immensely by the children who have stayed with us, some for many years.

Jul. 13 2009 08:39 PM
lauren from NJ

i signed up for this program - our child comes in 2 days. we don't have kids, so i thought it might even be fun for me - no matter if your white or black, rich or poor - going away on your own is a special treat. I think it's less about the $$, and more about getting to experience a different way of life.

Jul. 13 2009 02:44 PM
DAT from Nathan Straus Projects

As a child if about 7, I went to the
Fresh Air Fund and was sponsored by
a family from the Pennsylvania Dutch
Amish Country.
It was a drastic change from what I was
used to living in the Robert F. Wagner
My mother, never let me out alone.
In Pennsylvania, I had an entire backyard
to play in.
We always bought our butter, ice cream,
milk from the A&P store.
In Pennsylvania, the family I stayed with,
made their own ice-cream, butter and milked
their cows.
It was a large family, and when one of their
children died, I went to the funeral, and
saw a toddler, dressed in white, his face
was blue.
I loved going to the Pennsylvania Dutch
Country and still go there with the Crosby
Tours, till this day.

However, one time, I was sent to a typical
surburban, family, I don't remember where,
and I did not like it.
I didn't fit in with that family and
felt uncomfortable.

I always loved the Amish experience.

My mother took me somewhere, around
East 119th street to sign up.

My father was against it, but my mother
was in favor and she won out.

I went to a typical sleep away camp,
where we slept in bunkbeds in cabins
with other kids.

I hated that and made them send me back
before it was time to go.

I told them, I set their cabin on fire,
if they forced me to stay.

The counselor looked at me, and saw I meant it.

Called my mother and my father came to get me.

I didn't like those girls.

Jul. 13 2009 02:16 PM
Peter McKeever from Brooklyn, NY

I stayed with several host families as a child as did all of my six siblings. We are still in touch with most of them 35 years later, attending weddings and graduations. I recently was in the neighborhood of one host family on a job and just 'popped in' to say hello. I can't extol the virtues of this program enough, it was a real eye opener to a young urban child and I hope it continues for centuries to come.

Jul. 13 2009 11:54 AM
jtt from jackson heights

good one julianna...

would't just plain summer camp be more of a break from city life than two weeks in the 'burbs?

Jul. 13 2009 11:49 AM
Elisa from White Plains

Can gay/lesbian-headed households host?

Jul. 13 2009 11:46 AM
bint from manhattan

i looked at the fresh air fund website and i'm curious to know why boys are able to participate in the program until the age of 15 but girls can only participate until 12.

Jul. 13 2009 11:46 AM
Molly from New Jersey

Do you need a stay-at-home parent?

Jul. 13 2009 11:44 AM
Yvonne Durant from Manhattan

They get many homesick children, especially the young ones.. One host told me she was concerned that their camper would think that to have nice things you have to be white.

Yes, there are good stories but I personally question the relevance of this kind of program today. There is little outreach to black families. In fact, one little boy was disappointed when his host family turned out to be black.

By the way, I was a Fresh Air Fund kid, nothing terrible happened I just didn't understand why was I with these white people.

Jul. 13 2009 11:44 AM
Juliana from Brooklyn

Just wondering if there is a program which offers the opposite option.... bringing suburban kids into the city to experience the differences in culture, neighborhood, etc....

Jul. 13 2009 11:43 AM
Yvonne Durant from Manhattan

I am a freelance writer. Several years ago I wrote an article about Friendly Town, the Fresh Air Fund's program that sends children as young as six into homes. While it has been positive, there are negatives. One, the fund does not run criminal background checks on all hosts. Two, many children return home and don't understand why their parents can't do the same as the hosts - gifts, etc. ran the piece, no one else would touch it. Aimee Bell at Vanity Fair was interested because her family was host to a little boy. She never understood why is this child sitting at our country club and tomorrow he's back in the projects? Bell couldn't run anything because it's a regional story.
There have been cases of abuse in these homes. Andrew Vachss has spoken out against it.
I interviewed Dr. A. Poussaint, too. I will be glad to send you this article.

Jul. 13 2009 10:08 AM

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