BALLSTON SPA – A lifetime of bringing joy to others, particularly those who do not have the simple pleasures we sometimes take for granted.
Patty LeRoy of Ballston Spa has been all about the giving; the selfless act of opening her heart, her house and inviting people to be part of her family, as a host family for The Fresh Air Fund for 50 years. She has been a tireless advocate during this time as well, recruiting countless other host families (she currently monitors about 75 as a Fund Representative in charge of the Clifton Park zone) in the region. And at 78 years young, she has absolutely no intention of slowing down. “I love what I am doing, why would I stop?” she said.
For all these reasons, all the lives she has touched and made better, and more, Patty was surprised at the annual meeting of the Fresh Air Fund earlier this month (February 4-7) with a surprise celebration at a banquet in her honor in front of 300 people at New York City’s Marriott Marquis Hotel, in which she was commemorated as the first volunteer to reach the 50-year milestone in The Fresh Air Fund’s long and storied history.
The Fresh Air Fund has been serving children since 1877. Each summer, it strives to provide thousands of New York City children with unforgettable experiences that will unlock their limitless potential. Guest children are placed starting at age 7 to 12, and often will stay with a family until age 18. “Most families get to enjoy that long term connection. And they are in your lives forever,” Patty noted.
The summer experiences they enjoy by being a part of Patty’s or another host family’s life for a week or two are made up of regular activities that most of us would regard as routine. Yet, they expose a child to a quality of life that can make all the difference.
Consider that many of these guest children come from gritty inner-city environments. Many have never ridden a bike; played barefoot in the grass; or sat around a campfire. But through the efforts of Patty and The Fresh Air Fund, these children are taken away from the sirens and people screaming – they actually hear crickets at night for the first time, and that is a priceless, horizon-broadening experience that can be nothing short of miraculous – it changes lives, pure and simple.
To be sure, there is an economic commitment in all this. Host families are volunteers and are not compensated. And yet, Patty has always regarded this as simple as “…adding a hot dog to the grill,” she said. “These children are not looking for anything more than what you might regularly do with your family. What’s more important is the size of your heart, not your wallet.”
A small, 100-word newspaper item started this all in motion. In 1966, Patty read in the Ballston Journal about the Ballston Spa’s Rotary Club’s plans to participate, for the 14th year, in what at the time was the “90th year of The New York Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund” that summer. Through that small article, a life’s labor of love was set in motion. With ripple effects onto countless lives, that continues to this day.
Her daughter Tricia, herself a long-time Fresh Air volunteer, said it best. “My mom is PASSIONATE in everything she does! I love her dearly and am inspired by her daily! She is my hero!” To commemorate her 50th anniversary, her family has set the goal of recruiting 50 new Fresh Air Fund families in the region.
Make that 49 – she’s my hero too.
To learn more about becoming a host family, contact Patty LeRoy at 518-885-9505. For more information about the Fresh Air Fund and its programs, visit www.FreshAir.org