A trip to the country for inner-city children

Item Photo by Brian Dowlin A group of Fresh Air Fund participants arrived in Tilden on July 10 in order to spend time in the country, away from city life. The children are pictured with some of the host parents and their children.

bdowlin@berksmontnews.com A summer vacation in the country began yesterday in Tilden for a bus of children from New York City.

As participants in the Fresh Air Fund program, inner-city children met their host families after their bus rolled into the parking lot of the Wendy's restaurant located along Route 61. The children then departed with their host families and embarked upon an experience in the country.

'It's really a wonderful program,' said Hamburg resident Betty Atkinson, who waited in the parking lot to meet and greet her child. 'I can't say enough. It's fantastic.'

Betty and her husband, Richard, have participated in the Fresh Air Fund program as a host family for 17 years. She said the impetus for participation in the program came as a result of prodding from Randy Bond, who is the minister of Zion's Church in Hamburg. He encouraged his congregation to get involved with the program and the Atkinsons responded.

Each summer throughout the time of their involvement, the Atkinsons hosted a female participant of the program. This year, however, the couple will host a boy for the first time.

'We'll keep him busy,' said Atkinson. 'He'll pick up eggs because we have a working farm. So we have chickens and we have donkeys and we have cows. So he'll be exposed to all of that.'

She said there are also plans to take the child fishing and swimming during his time in Hamburg.

The outdoor activities and exposure to the animals are both activities that fall underneath of the purpose of the program, as explained by Orwigsburg resident Ethel Kane, who has served as a host for 20 years.

'It's (the program) to give the children in the city a different outside of the city and show them a different environment, a different perspective,' said Kane.

The program, which was started over 125 years ago by a minister in Sherman, Pa., allows children ages 6-12 to stay with a host family for a one- or two-week visit. If the children and host families are agreeable, the families can continue to host the children until the age of 18. If the arrangement between a host family and a child is not successful, the youngster can choose to go to a different family the following year up until the age of 12.

Kane, who is originally from New York, is hosting two 13-year-old girls this year, both of who previously stayed with her. Desiree Alvarez, from Harlem, and Kaystal Davis, from the Bronx, both enjoyed visiting Hershey Park during their past visits to the area. The girls also spoke of the differences between their normal environments and that of the local Berks environment.

'In New York it's walking distance. You want to go to the corner store, it's right there,' said Desiree. 'Over here you have to drive.'

'I enjoyed going outside more and playing in the grass,' said Kaystal.

Along with the benefits provided for the inner-city children, Kane said there are also profits for the children of the host families.

'The children here (children of host families) get to see, sometimes, less fortunate children than themselves,' said Kane. 'And the children here learn to share.'

Love for children in general led to the participation in the Fresh Air Fund for Hamburg resident Diane Schwoyer and her husband, Dennis, who serves as a police officer for Tilden Township. This is the first year the couple will host a child.

'I have been wanting to do it but I was working and I retired so I do it now,' said Diane Schwoyer. 'And I love children. I formerly worked in a daycare for an after school age program.'

During the one-week visit of the girl that the Schwoyers will host, the couple plans on taking her to their campsite at Blue Rocks Campground in Lenhartsville and possibly on a trip to Lancaster County to experience the Amish culture.

If the experience turns out well and the child is happy, Schwoyer would like to continue hosting the same girl each year in the future.

Atkinson, who hosted her first child 17 years ago, maintained an ongoing relationship with the girl she first hosted and is still in contact with the now 22-year-old.

'It's been very rewarding,' said Atkinson. 'I don't need to be rewarded but it's just a nice feeling to do something for other people or other children.'

comments powered by Disqus