RYE, N.Y. – A special group of children from low-income New York City neighborhoods will arrive in Rye Monday afternoon to spend two weeks with Westchester and Fairfield county families under the sponsorship of the Fresh Air Fund.
“It’s an opportunity for children to be children, play in a safe place that is broadly educational, and see new kinds of places and people,” said fund executive director Jenny Morgenthau. “In New York City, it’s never dark, so you never see stars. When you go to Westchester, you can.”
The non-profit Fresh Air Fund was started in 1877 when many poor children living in New York City tenements were hit by a tuberculosis epidemic. At that time, fresh air was considered the best treatment. Willard Parsons, a minister in Sherman, Pa., asked families in his congregation to volunteer to host needy children for a vacation in the country.
Since then, more than 1.7 million New York City children have benefited, swimming, fishing and making new friends outside of their neighborhoods. Each summer, more than 4,000 children visit host families in rural, suburban and small-town communities in 13 states from Virginia to Maine and in Canada.
Host families share their summers for up to two weeks with Fresh Air children, ages 6 to 18. “There are a lot of little kids going for the first time, and there are teenagers who go for about 10 years,” said Morgenthau.
Host families are interviewed in person, provide references and undergo background checks before being chosen. Morgenthau says the fund discourages families from taking siblings or more than one child.
“One of the big things children talk about – when they are adults – is that it made them feel really special and they were able to be the center of attention,” she said.
Area host families will welcome 18 children Monday afternoon at Rye High School. There’s no set program or demands placed on families, says Morgenthau. “What we really stress with the host is you don’t have to do anything special, just do what you normally do,” she said. “All the families say they get more than they give.”