Families gather in Darien for annual Fresh Air Fund event
DARIEN — Amanda Hanson got involved with the Fresh Air Fund program 12 years ago with the thought it would be wonderful to have inner-city children experience suburban life.
“The benefits for me and my family, I sometimes believe, have way outweighed the benefits of the kids we’ve hosted,” said Hanson, a 45-year-old resident of Fairfield. “We have grown and learned so much.”
Her position as a town representative for the Fresh Air Fund includes introducing host families to the children and doing any troubleshooting to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Since 1877, thousands of children from New York City have been introduced to host families from the East Coast and Southern Canada according to the Fresh Air Fund official website. Children and host families are able to be signed up through the official Fresh Air Fund website, freshair.org.
Hanson said the program has helped to expose children to worlds and opportunities they didn’t know exist or may have been beyond their reach. Things like learning how to ride a bike, swimming or learning the process of applying for college when they are older have impacted the children in the program, she said.
“I think this program can take these experiences and show these kids that anything is possible for them,” said Hanson.
On June 28, families from all over Connecticut gathered at First Congregational Church to welcome the children from New York. Though host families were able to FaceTime the children a couple of weeks in advance, the meeting in Darien was their first interaction in person.
Joanne Walsh, a Milford resident who is participating in the program for the second time, traveled to Darien to meet the two Fresh Air Fund kids she would spend her next week with.
“I did it once before 20 years ago when my daughter was 7 and we had a little girl that was 9,” said Walsh. “This time I decided I would have two girls so they would have someone to hang with.”
Through the Fresh Air Fund program, she was introduced to 8-year-old Miley Lojano and Joyelle Powell, both from Queens, New York.
“This is my second time being here,” said Powell. “I was hoping to go to the pool and try new things we haven’t done before.”
Lojano said this was her first time being in the Fresh Air Fund program and she looked forward to the following week.
“We plan to do a lot of stuff like go to the beach or cherry-picking,” she said. “However the weather goes, we plan to do a lot.”
Walsh said she originally got involved with the program because she thought it was important to meet people from different backgrounds.
“The world is getting smaller,” she said. “As it should.”
Walsh said the program helps to expose children to new people which can be important growing up. She compared the program to her time attending a girl scout camp when she was around 10 years old living in Chicago.
“When I went to the girl scout camp it was the first time I met anyone that was Jewish,” said Walsh. “She was so much fun and so cool. It really set my life on a different trajectory I think because we’re really all the same.”
Though their time together would be short, she said she had a lot planned for the upcoming week with the girls.
“We’re going to go to the beach, maybe go strawberry picking if everyone likes strawberries,” said Walsh. “We’re going to do a lot of things.”
Becoming part of the Fresh Air Fund
To sign up as a host family or to enroll a kid in the program visit freshair.org or call 1-800-367-0003
Fresh Air children also participate in year round leadership and educational programs.