OSWEGO, NY – The Fresh Air Fund has brought more than 60 kids from the bustling streets of New York City to the quiet countryside in the Central New York area.
Oswego chairperson for Fresh Air Fund, Kathy Froio described the organization as “a cultural exchange that allows children from different boroughs of NYC to get a taste of rural life.”
Fresh Air Fund is an independent not-for-profit organization that developed nearly 140 years ago with the original goal to help needy children from the NYC area escape a deadly tuberculosis outbreak in which “fresh air” was considered a cure for the respiratory issues that were predominant with the disease.
Since its official start in 1877, Fresh Air Fund has served more than 1.8 million NYC children with summer experiences in the country through volunteer host families and summer camp programs.
Today, the program exists less for cure of diseases and more to provide low-income children ages seven to eighteen surrounded by the everyday noise and busyness of city streets the opportunity to experience open, freeing environments on the eastern coast from Virginia to Canada and all the “fresh air” they have to offer.
Aside from fresh air, many of the participating children get to experience a variety of activities for the first time while they make new friends and develop lasting relationships with their host family.
“It’s a much different experience from home,” said 12-year-old, Helena. “I get to be outside a lot more, and its more fun here.”
From the Bronx, Helena is only able to play in the grass at local parks at home, a far contrast from her host family’s country home on a lake.
“We read about Fresh Air Fund in the paper last summer, which was the first time we had heard about it,” said Helena’s host mother, Marilyn Baumler. “We live on a lake so we jumped at the opportunity to allow a child to experience lake life in the country. If they wanted fresh air, they got fresh air with us!”
That fresh air, partnered with plenty of grass to run in, a lake for swimming, boating and tubing, some neighborhood kids to play with, and a nightly campfire complete with roasted marshmallows, Baumler proved to have the perfect surroundings to host a Fresh Air child for the first time.
Helena certainly agreed and said that tubing on the lake had been her favorite experience so far, one that she had never done before.
Kayaking, boating and swimming in a lake as opposed to a pool are just some of the new experiences Helena has been exposed to while staying with her host family.
To add to the long list of fun they have had, Baumler said she still plans to take Helena to a local waterfall, Tupper Lake Nature Center, and blueberry picking for a few more fun, new experiences.
“It’s wonderful,” Baumler said of Fresh Air Fund. “It’s good to get these children out of the city and let them see a different lifestyle. And it’s been great for me, too. I love getting to know Helena, about her life, what she does at home, her family, everything.”
Apart from each family’s individual experiences and activities, all Fresh Air Fund children in the area were able to enjoy an entire day full of fun compliments of Best Western Plus Captain’s Quarters and Bayshore Grove, both in Oswego.
“Cathy Broadwell and the Broadwell family allow us to let all the children swim at Captain’s Quarters and then we go to Bayshore Grove for lunch and a game day, completely free. So, it’s a really great day for the kids. The Broadwells used to be a host family, but because of their business obligations they no longer can host so this is their way of still being connected, their contribution to the program,” explained Froio.
Froio also used to be a Fresh Air host herself starting 14 years ago, but after her two Fresh Air children recently outgrew the program as they entered college and career, she has since evolved in her experience with Fresh Air Fund to become the Oswego chairperson.
“I had fun doing it, and I wanted to focus on encouraging other people to do it, too. I was so excited about it, I figured everyone would be just as excited,” she said.
Today, in the role of chairperson, Froio’s favorite part of the summer experience is watching the kids arrive on their buses and meet their host family.
“It’s exciting to see the families and kids meet that have been matched, like – ‘it’s a boy!’ almost like a birth announcement. In a way, it is a lot like a birth announcement. The birth of a new experience.”
But, if there’s one thing Froio could change, it would be to get more involvement for volunteer host families to be able to match more kids to families in this area.
If a child is not matched to a host family by the age of 12, they miss out on the opportunity to live with a host family and instead can only attend Fresh Air Fund summer camps.
However, a child matched to a host family has the opportunity to be re-invited to the host home each year until the child is 18 years old and may even stay for extended visits in the summer or can come back at other times of the year.
“It’s a great cultural experience, a real opportunity to change a child’s life. It’s a teaching opportunity, to open a child’s eyes to something new,” said Froio.
For more information on Fresh Air Fund or how to become a host family, visit the organization’s website here.