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Fresh Air Fund looks to recruit more families to host New York City children for summer stays

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It’s the height of the recruiting season for the Fresh Air Fund, and chairpersons across the state are looking for families interested in taking in a child from New York City for a couple of weeks during the summer.

Earline A. LaFleur, chairwoman of the Potsdam region of the fund, said most chairpersons across the state attend a conference in New York City every February to offer advice to recruiters on what to look for in families they recruit.

“We try to recruit throughout the year, but we do much more in the spring,” she said. “We’re always looking for new families.”

Gail M. Bice, Madrid, is the fund representative for St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, as well as Cornwall, Ontario.

She said most of the recruiting process functions by word of mouth.

“We have so much to offer the children and get them out of the city for a free vacation,” she said.

Last year, St. Lawrence County had 38 host families open their homes to the New York City children. Jefferson County had 14.

Mrs. Bice said about 70 percent of the children are invited back by the same family in subsequent years.

Monique Tirion, Potsdam, said her 17-year-old son, Yoel Ben-Avraham, has become close friends with Derick Chan, a 16-year-old from New York City who has been the family’s Fresh Air Fund guest each summer for the past decade.

“Derick never had a brother, but he told us that he thinks of my son as a brother,” Ms. Tirion said. “We feel like family.”

Ms. Tirion said when Derick was younger, he was always excited to see cows and farm animals, as he never got to see them in the city. This may be his last year visiting for a while, since he will be going to college, Ms. Tirion said.

“You’re really extending your family, and it’s a lifelong extension,” she said.

Marcia LaManna is the fund’s chairwoman for the Thousand Islands area.

“Most of these kids have no access to green areas,” she said. “Their play areas are mainly cement.”

Mrs. LaManna said when the children are on the bus on their way to the north country, they start screaming every time they see a farm with cows, because some of them have never seen cows before.

“They think the farms are mansions because they’re used to their city apartments,” she said.

Ms. LaFleur said before the organization can let a child live with a family for one to two weeks during the summer, it has to ensure a safe environment for that child.

She said after a family applies to host a Fresh Air Child, it goes through an interview process and background check. Prospective host families also need to provide four references.

“We’re responsible for the safety of these kids, so we really make sure it’s a safe environment,” Mr. LaFleur said.

Brittany L. Ashley, her husband, Shane M., and their 6-year-old daughter, Madison M., have participated in the Fresh Air Fund for four years.

When they first met their Fresh Air child, Amaya Franklin, she was 4 years old.

“It’s a short term, so it’s a great opportunity to give kids in the city a chance to experience nature and quiet, which they don’t get a lot of in the city,” Mrs. Ashley said. “We look forward to seeing her each year.”

Ms. LaFleur said the dates of the children’s arrival vary by county and family, but they usually start in June.

Families interested in hosting a child can apply online at www.freshair.org, or call 1-800-367-0003 to contact a chairperson in a specific area.

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