“The bus should be pulling in any minute!”
Several dozen families gathered at Veterans Memorial Park in South Burlington on Friday to welcome a bus full of New York City children, sending parents, siblings and dogs to the parking lot with their welcome signs held high. The kids are participating in the Fresh Air Fund, a program that allows them to escape the concrete jungle for a week and enjoy the green grass and starry nights of Vermont.
There was excitement and anticipation in that fresh air on June 28, with several parents feeling nervous about meeting their bonus child for the first time. For some families, though, it was a very happy reunion.
Adele Holoch and her three sons – Ben, 10, Noah, 8, and Oliver, 6 – waited for Isaac of Manhattan to step off the bus for his fifth visit to their Shelburne home. They look forward to playing basketball, swimming at the beach and taking in both the Burlington fireworks on July 3 and the Fourth of July show at Shelburne Museum.
Shiqi Lin of Brooklyn was returning for her third summer with the Maloney family in South Burlington and the joy on her face as she reunited with her summer sister, Emma, said it all. While many kids in Vermont think of the big city as the more exciting place to be, for Shiqi and others, the grass truly is greener in the Green Mountain State.
“Brooklyn is a little bit boring to me because I’ve lived there for such a long time, since I was born,” laughed the 13-year-old. “But here, you have cows and farms and, well, all that fresh air!”
This summer, Shiqi is most excited about celebrating the Fourth in Vermont, as well as seeing the friends she has made over the last few years. Host parents Eileen and Sean Maloney highly recommend the experience.
“It’s like having a live action pen pal,” Sean Maloney said. “Emma and Shiqi have developed their own personal connection.”
The Maloney family’s priority list includes a Lake Monsters game and a trip to Ben and Jerry’s, either to the Church Street shop or perhaps the factory tour in Waterbury, for which they can receive a discount.
“The staff at Fresh Air does a phenomenal job of matching children with homes and they also work with the community to provide discounts to host families for activities in the area, such as the Echo Center, the Pump House at Jay Peak and others,” Maloney says. “I think there is appropriate anxiety when you are hosting for the first time, but there are local coordinators available for support.”
One of these coordinators is volunteer chairperson Tracy Towers of Colchester, who is also a host parent. Her daughter, Ellen, has developed a wonderful friendship with 12-year-old Faith Brown, who has been visiting for the past six years. The family also hosts Mimi Bernard, 9, who joins them for the third time.
“It has been so rewarding to watch Faith grow and blossom from the 6-year-old little girl that got off the bus with beads in her hair to the teenager that she is today,” Towers beamed. “Mimi is 9 now. Faith and Ellen have welcomed her in and she brings a whole new energy to our home.”
Meanwhile, Mike and Erika Schramm of Shelburne, along with sons Charlie, 11, and Thomas, 8, are thrilled to be meeting their host son, Darren, for the first time. Darren, who lives in Queens, is in for an unforgettable experience. The family plans on taking him to visit state parks, going on hikes and experiencing the traditional July 3 Burlington fireworks from a boat out on the lake. Darren will also get to hang out with backyard chickens, a pet not easily found in Queens.
Maloney shares his best advice for future host families: “Don’t feel like you have to do everything in one week. Sometimes it’s just having a creemee at Al’s,” he smiles. “Just share your life with them. The appreciation on the child’s face is quite a sight to see.”
To become a Fresh Air host family, learn more at www.freshair.org.