By Ellen Cahill
Although Deirdre Gladstone, of Hinesburg, always knew about The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program, she became very interested in hosting a New York City child when her daughter Rose read a book about a Fresh Air child coming to Vermont. Rose was so excited after reading this story that for her 10th birthday her one wish was to host a Fresh Air child.
Her parents were happy to grant this wish and signed up to host Kwanza, of Manhattan, for a week in July 2013. After their first amazing experience, the Gladstone family couldn’t imagine summer without her, and will be hosting Kwanza, age 12, for a third year this summer.
Twenty-eight New York City children arrived in Chittenden County this month to spend a summer vacation with host families. The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.8 million New York City children from low-income neighborhoods since 1877. Each summer, nearly 4,000 inner-city children visit suburban, rural, and small town communities across 13 states, from Virginia to Maine and Canada, through The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program.
The Gladstone family truly enjoys sharing simple day-to-day activities with Kwanza, and Rose and Ryan Gladstone, ages 12 and 13, get along incredibly well with her. According to Deirdre, the children do everything together. They play board games, listen to music, swim in the pond, and bike. Last summer, they even went ziplining together, which Kwanza really loved. The Gladstones are happy to be able to include Kwanza in these typical summertime activities because they are new experiences for her.
Deirdre’s best memories of Kwanza’s visits are of her trying new things. “It is great to see her overcome her fears, try something new, and love it,” said Deirdre. “The first time we took her tubing on the lake, she was nervous, but so brave and really enjoyed it after trying it.” Last summer, the Gladstone family took Kwanza and their children snorkeling on Lake Champlain. “Kwanza was even braver than my children,” remarked Deirdre. Kwanza has impacted the Gladstone family tremendously. “It feels like we have another member of our family,” said Deirdre.
The whole family, especially Rose and Ryan, keep in touch with Kwanza all year long and cannot wait for her return each summer. “She is so bright, kind and funny,” said Deirdre. “We miss her whit and fun energy so much during the year.” The Gladstone family also really appreciates families in New York City like Kwanza’s for sharing their children with host families. “It is such an honor to have her with us and we hope to have her in our lives forever,” Deirdre said.
When asked what Deirdre would say to a prospective host, she responded, “Definitely give it a try. We have had such a positive experience.” Deirdre is also glad that many people host in her area because, when Kwanza is there, neighbors are hosting Fresh Air children as well. This community connection to The Fresh Air Fund helped inspire the Gladstone family to host a child. The Fresh Air Fund is always seeking host families to enable as many New York City children as possible to benefit from a summer experience outside of the city.
To learn more about how to become a host family, please call Marion Sullivan at 877-3028 or visit The Fresh Air Fund online at www.freshair.org.