Thursday, 25 July 2013 15:06

Fresh Air Fund Creates Extended Families

By Brian Cremo | News

BALLSTON SPA — Six years ago, the Singer family decided to join the Fresh Air Fund and host a child from New York City for a couple weeks—Brooklyn native Sam Torres.

Six years later, their relationship is still strong. Torres is an extended part of the family, which consists of Stephen and Darlene Singer, along with their two sons, Jake and Alex. Torres, 14, visits them every year.

The Singer’s also hosted a 7-year-old in 2012 as well, but have grown accustomed to having Torres in their home each summer.

“He was our first and we get him every year,” Darlene said. “He’s our guy. We’ll take somebody else in, but he’s the one who we invite back every year.”

More than 65 percent of all children are re-invited to stay with their host families year after year in the FAF, an independent, non-profit agency that has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities.

“We were very excited about it,” said Steven, when recalling the first year his family got involved. “We had friends who did it, and growing up my aunt did it as well, so it was always something I wanted to do if we had the means.”

The FAF has not just been a tradition in upstate New York. Each summer there are over 4,000 children from ages 6-18 who visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada through The FAF’s Volunteer Host Family Program. 

 “It’s a short commitment and it’s not like you have to be well-off to do it,” Stephen said. “It’s another person in the family for a couple weeks and you just do the same things you normally would.”

The program has been around since 1877, when Reverend Willard Parsons, a minister of a rural parish in Sherman, Pennsylvania, asked members of his congregation to provide country vacations as volunteer host families for New York City’s neediest children.

Now, along with the host family experience, there is also the opportunity for kids to attend one of five FAF camps in upstate New York.

“I like coming up here,” said Torres, who arrived on July 16 and will be heading back to Brooklyn July 30. “It’s quiet and we do fun stuff. It’s a getaway from New York.”

The Singers and Torres do things that might be taken for granted by people who live permanently in upstate New York—going to the fair, fishing and camping. Occasionally, they will also make the short trip to The Great Escape.

This trip’s Fresh Air Picnic, when the program’s families get together, was Tuesday, July 23.

One of the main volunteers for New York’s FAF is Patty LeRoy, who the Singers and countless others in the Capital Region have gone through to host a child or teenager for the past 46 years.

 “[Patty’s] energy for the program is amazing,” Darlene said. “She treats them all like her kids. One girl who’s staying at her house now calls her Grandma. They just get really comfortable with her and she’ll go above and beyond to make sure everyone’s happy. If someone is upset with the way things are working out, she tries to smooth it over. I don’t know where she gets her passion for the program. She’s pretty amazing.”

LeRoy can often be seen driving around in her FAF van with the windows painted by kids in the program, always looking to recruit new host families.

If interested, prospective host families can request the age group and gender of the individual looking for a stay in upstate New York. For more information visit www.freshair.org or call Patty LeRoy at (518) 885-9505.

 “I just wish more people would open their homes,” Darlene said. “It’s not a hard thing. If my neighborhood alone just took in one person, the program would grow so much. I don’t know why people don’t do it more. Maybe it’s fear or something. The kids have to be scared coming the first time because they don’t know you and you’re kind of scared having somebody come into your house who you don’t know, but when it gets down to it they’re just kids.”

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