Part I – Fresh Air Fund friends (20 more young people to be featured in future posts)
What fun we had reminiscing tonight about all the young people who have shared our home! So many great memories and funny stories. For fourteen years we hosted children through the Fresh Air Fund – a program to provide inner city kids with a summer vacation in the country. We learned a lot from our summer friends. Their lives in Harlem and the Bronx were very different from our life in Vermont. It was a good opportunity for us to see the world through others’ eyes. We learned about drugs and gangs and people receiving public assistance. We heard about kids whose parents were incarcerated. We witnessed the joy of one child seeing his first fireworks show and another learning how to ride a bike. The experience also helped to expose Shawn, Erik and Weston to a diversity that Vermont lacks.
When Shawn was five years old, he innocently confessed, “Mommy, I don’t know why, but sometimes I think all black people are bad.” We realized Shawn developed this stereotype from living in a homogenous community and from being in the room when we watched the nightly news. The news and other media were his only exposure to people from different racial and ethnic groups. A few months later, Naquan joined us for his first of several visits and he and Shawn became fast friends. I can remember one time at dinner when Naquan asked Shawn, “Why do so many white people live in the country and so many black people live in the city?” I knew I couldn’t answer that question – but, even at six, Shawn loved to hypothesize and confidently answered, “Maybe it’s because that’s where all their friends are.” Naquan was satisfied and the conversation quickly shifted to lightning bugs, snakes and other things.
We lost touch with Naquan when his family moved one too many times. That’s when Deek joined us. We actually hosted two boys that year, but the second boy taught us what happens to children who are exposed to drugs in their mother’s womb. We were only able to keep that boy for a few days because of his emotional and behavioral challenges. Deek bore the brunt of that boy’s aggression and we were all relieved when he went home. We had a couple great summers with Deek, who was especially fond of George. He enjoyed adult company more than the company of other kids. And since there was a daycare in our home at that time, our house was full of other kids five days a week.
Jason came for many summers. He and Erik had a great bond. He was funny, mischievous and energetic. As he got older, he attracted a lot of attention from the local girls. His last summer with us, I was the director at Camp Ondawa, a sleepaway camp. The girls at the camp, even the older girls, fawned over him. The boys were not impressed. He had a casual and confident city swagger and knew how to pour on the charm. He was the only boy at the pond wearing a Speedo. Jason outgrew his summers in Vermont – catching crayfish, swimming in the river, dissecting owl poop, hiking and the other activities of a rural life. Sleeping in a stinky cabin and having to do chores at the camp were also not very appealing to him.
Josue’s visits overlapped with Jason’s for a couple years and then he continued to come for a few years after that. Josue and his younger twin brothers were raised by a single mom who worked hard to provide a better life for the boys. Within a couple years, they moved out of the city to a town near Newburgh, New York. He still came every summer. And he was great at keeping in touch when he was gone. We loved to hear how he was doing in school and about all his other activities. In addition to Josue’s summer visits, he and his two brothers started to spend part of their Christmas vacations with us as well. Josue loved to joke and his brothers, Alex and Allen, were equally funny. Josue had the greatest laugh! They loved to play board games, swim, go sledding, play video games and more. Lots and lots of fun memories watching these boys grow up. They are pictured above in 2005 with our exchange student from Korea.
Naquan, Deek, Jason and Josue are between 18 and 25 years old now. Time flies! I look at these photos and it seems like yesterday.