City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More

Featured Article

A Summer Can Change a Child’s Life

The Fresh Air Fund's Transformative Opportunities

Article by Caroline C. Barney

Photography by Provided by Fresh Air Fund

Originally published in Westport Lifestyle

Where we live is remarkable! Beauty, opportunities, and adventure at our fingertips…especially in the summer!

A day spent squealing with delight (and perhaps some fear) while hunting crabs and gathering shells becomes a top priority. An ice cream alongside the Saugatuck River. Kayaks and paddle boards ready for a quick adventure at sea. The awe-inspiring landing of the great egret into the marshes. Climbing into bed still sticky from sunscreen that meant it when it said “waterproof.” Sand between the toes. Crickets and frogs; a cacophony filling the nighttime airways.

These are the childhood summertime moments that create a lifetime of memories and the belief that anything is possible. The world is full of beauty and adventure to seek out.

For the children that take part in the Fresh Air Fund’s programs, these are experiences that can change their lives. The power of fun, new opportunities, and connections root a deep impact that can ripple through families and communities.

Since its founding in 1877, the Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit youth development organization, has provided free life-changing experiences in the suburbs to more than 1.8 million children from New York City’s underserved communities.

Through sleep-away camps and visiting volunteer host families, children are exposed to the magic of a Fresh Air summer, one that is full of new experiences and new friends, simple yet transformative.   

It’s also fair to say that the impact of these summers is equally transformative for the families that volunteer as host families (Friendly Towns Program). “It’s hard to understand the depth of what these meaningful relationships do for a youth, family, and anyone participating in it,” says CEO Lisa Gitelson. “Whenever someone creates a relationship that is meaningful and deep for them, it is all of us who benefit…it ripples out to make life better for you, for others around you, and for your community, town, city, and beyond. It’s not just impactful at the level of those participating, it is so much more than that.”

Stories of families connecting over generations because of the relationships built in a summer are full of joy. Adults who met as children, the host and the hosted, seeing each other as brothers and sisters decades later. Parents coming together to share in the joy of seeing a child reach their potential. Lives enriched because of the belonging forged between families.

Fairfield County is one of the largest areas in terms of host families in CT. Westport/Weston has around 25 families taking part in the Friendly Towns Program yearly. A number the Fresh Air Fund hopes will continue to grow (perhaps this article sparks an interest for you and your family?).

Volunteer host mom, Emma Halliwell, shares, “We have been taking part for seven years and always have the same child come to stay with us. I have two daughters and my oldest is the same age as our Fresh Air child Jasmin that stays with us. Everyone was nervous the first year, but Jasmin was lovely and the girls got along great. And now we have her cell and she has ours…she just texts us, ‘Hey, can I come in the summer,’ and then we go and pick her up and drop her back.”

The Fresh Air Fund is available to everyone involved throughout the experience. 24-7 social workers are on call and provide support. “Our role is to support the relationships and connections being built. We foster relationships before the child even goes to the home,” says Director of Friendly Towns for Fresh Air Fund Nicole Johnston.   

“My advice,” continues Emma, “fill out the application and just do it. It’s not scary…you just have a great time.”

Here’s the good news Westport…it’s not too late to volunteer as a host family for this August! And if that isn’t right for you, take a look at the many other ways you can support the Fresh Air Fund. Perhaps in the summers ahead, we can welcome even more children to experience the fresh air of Westport!

“My advice, fill out the application and just do it. It’s not scary…you just have a great time.” - Emma Halliwell