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Part Of The Family – July 20, 2011
by Leah Carey
It’s a simple summertime pleasure – sticking your hand out the car window and letting it float on the air currents, playing with the wind.
This simple game is unimaginable to a 10-year-old Fresh Air kid from New York City. The Fresh Air Fund and local host families provide an opportunity for low-income children from New York City to experience summer in Vermont.
Khalilah is a Fresh Air Fund kid who spent two weeks with Cyndie and Jason Payeur of Waterford and their four children for the second summer in a row.
“One day in the car she saw us put our hands out the window to play with the wind and she didn’t want us to do it. She was afraid of getting her hand cut off,” Cyndie said, chuckling. “I told her it was OK and reminded her that dogs stick their whole heads out the window and they’re OK. She inched her fingertips out, then her fingers, then her hand, and then a little bit of her arm until it was out all the way up to the elbow. And then she stuck her whole arm out and was playing with the wind. It was great to watch!”
Cyndie said the whole family loves having Khalilah here and will definitely invite her back again next summer. “She’s such a great kid!”
Another Fresh Air kid who has made a great impression is Mari-Yanna from Brooklyn. She’s 12 years old and has been visiting the Martin family in Wheelock for the past eight summers.
“She started coming when she was five years old and was so tiny I had to get a toddler car seat for her,” host mom Becky Martin said.
The Martins have eight children of their own and Mari-Yanna is now one of the family. “We go to a family reunion each summer and Mari-Yanna goes with us. She loves it and our family expects to see her now.”
The Martins love playing host and showing a child from New York a different way of life, but Becky also has another motive.
“Their life is very different from ours. It has opened our kids’ eyes up to children from other places. Before we became Fresh Air hosts, we studied about kids from other places, but it’s different to have them here with us. One kid wouldn’t leave his shoes outside and kept asking if it was all right to leave the bicycles unlocked. Hopefully, it makes our children appreciate what they have even more.”
One of Mari-Yanna’s host sisters, Margaret, 13, is especially happy for her visits because the two girls are the same age. “I have another person to play with. We go outside, fool around in the brook, play dolls and Barbies.”
And the learning doesn’t just go one way – Margaret is exposed to a new culture through Mari-Yanna as well. “She talks about celebrities a lot and I don’t know much about that.”
For Mari-Yanna, the most notable difference between Vermont and home is the amount of space. “I live in a building where there are lots of kids and we can go out on a balcony to play together, but there’s more trees and space here. It’s a lot more open.”
Mari-Yanna has had such a great time with the Martins that she’s looking forward to introducing a new child into the Fresh Air program. “My niece is turning five so next year she’ll be old enough. Maybe she can come here with me next year.” Becky said that the family would be happy to welcome another youngster if the logistics work out.
Becky marvels at the courage it takes for parents of Fresh Air kids to put their child on a bus to unknown families.
“I couldn’t send my 5-year-old on a bus like that. I’m not sure I could send my 13-year-old to New York if the situation were reversed. But we fill out lots of paperwork each year and Fresh Air checks everything out carefully, so you know it’s a safe environment.”
The house will feel one Martin short when Mari-Yanna leaves later this week. “She’s not very loud,” said Becky, “but it definitely feels like somebody has left when she’s gone. With eight kids it’s weird to say that, but it feels like I don’t have everyone.”
Mari-Yanna takes more than just memories home with her when she leaves – the Martins will also send a small photo album of the summer’s adventures with her, as they do each year.
The Fresh Air Fund still has children looking for host families for this summer. If you are interested in inviting a child for one or two weeks, contact local coordinator Kathy Bales at 802-748-3742. There are no financial requirements for hosting a Fresh Air child. First-time visitors are ages 6 to 12 and children who are invited back to the same family may participate through age 18.
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