Cars filled the parking lot of Wendy’s in Tilden Twp. on July 16 with parents and children anxiously awaiting the arrival of their host child for the upcoming week or two weeks. Fourteen children from New York City between the ages of 6 and 18 packed their bags for a summer trip to Berks County as part of the Fresh Air Fund program.
For a few of the children it was their first time as part of the program or they were going to spend some days this summer with a new host family. Quite a few of the children were returning to previous host families and were welcomed with big hugs as they stepped off the bus.
Many “wow you got so big” and “look at how you’ve grown” comments could be heard from the host families as they welcomed their returning “family” member.
Elizabeth Atkinson, one of the local volunteer leaders, was ready to welcome her returning child for his third year with her. One of the plans that both parent and child were looking forward to during the week was a trip to Knoebels Amusement Park. The host child even made sure to check before the trip on the amusement park and was excited for a new ride that he learned the park added. Atkinson is also planning on visiting the rodeo during the child’s stay.
Even when the children age out of the program, they often stay in touch with their families as Atkinson has been in contact with a past Fresh Air Fund child who now has her own family and is planning a big family visit to Atkinson’s farm this weekend.
The Fresh Air Fund is an independent not-for-profit organization that began in 1877. The goal and mission was simple: to allow children living in low-income communities to get away from the city streets and enjoy a summer in the country. At program’s start, New York City was hit by the tuberculosis epidemic and fresh air was considered a cure for the aliment. It was a way to not only get the children out of the city for a period of time, but, in some cases, actually save their lives.
The tradition continues as a way to give children the chance to escape the city and for some, experience the country for the first time. In the past, volunteers have remarked on the children seeing a cow for the first time up close and also being able to run and play on grass for the first time outside of a city park.
Volunteers at the drop off and pick up location commented on the growth of the program with new host families joining this year.
For more of the Fresh Air Fund, visit http://www.freshair.org/.