By MADELINE HUGHES
In a tradition that dates back over 100 years, 160 youngsters from New York City visited Vermont this summer through the Fresh Air Fund.
Since 1877, the program has given children the chance to experience life outside the city every summer.
This year, about 200 families hosted kids ages 8 to 18, according to Marion Sullivan, the Northwest Vermont Fresh Air coordinator.
The Citizen caught up with two local families this week. Their stories were different, yet similar, and it was clear that the connections they made through the program go deeper than ten days in Vermont.
Careful vetting helps make matches that will last a lifetime, with about 65 percent of kids who visited Vermont this year returned to previous host families, Sullivan said.
Sitting outside a log cabin home in Hinesburg around a picnic table with crickets and frogs chirping in the background, Latayvia Bragg is a long way away from the Bronx. It’s her third summer spending a week in Vermont through the Fresh Air Fund, but her family’s history with this Hinesburg family predates the 14-year-old.
Her mom, Shawnte Bragg, also spent time in the summers in Hinesburg with Carl Bohlen and Kristy McLeod as a Fresh Air Fund child from ages 8 to 18, and she continued to keep in touch after becoming an adult.
When Shawnte became a mom, she continued bringing Latayvia up to visit her Fresh Air Family in Hinesburg, and Latayvia eventually decided to participate in the program. It was her chance to spend more time in Vermont on her own.
Monday, Latayvia was happy but tired. “My highlight was today I went on a jet ski,” she said. Laughing, Latayvia said she would like to get McLeod on a jet ski. “One day, one day,” she said.
Jet skiing is just one of the activities Latayvia has tried in Vermont. Being with the Fresh Air Fund program has allowed Latayvia, Bohlen and McLeod to be more adventurous, venturing to different museums and state parks.
“Local organizations open their arms to host families,” McLeod said, listing some of the dozens of places that give fresh air families discounts and free admission during the child’s stay. Shelburne Museum and ECHO are two of Latayvia’s favorites.
Many years into the Fresh Air program, Bohlen and McLeod say they have enjoyed being able to bring both generations of Braggs into their family, even after their own children are now grown and no longer at home.
“We all benefit from being exposed to people from different backgrounds, cultures and geographic locations,” McLeod said. “We get to hear about her life in the city and she hears about our life in the woods.
“We’ve had a lot of fun times over the years.”
Baking and making memories
Swarming around the kitchen in Shelburne on Tuesday morning, Aniya Jordan, Ella Carmichael, Aidan and Lia Militello frosted cupcakes. Lara Militello recently started a baking business in Shelburne, and decided that the week her family was hosting Aniya from the Fresh Air Fund would be a good time to host classes for her kids and their friends.
Militello knew Aniya loved to cook and bake, recalling delicious scallops and zucchini noodles she had made for the family during a past visit.
The 12-year-old from Queens, has become part of the Militello family over the past four years. Their relationship began when the Militello family decided to host a child because their only daughter Lia wanted a sister, growing up in a house with three brothers.
Lia “begged me every year when fliers would come home from school,” Lara said. Four years ago she and her husband Mark finally said OK.
Since then Aniya has ventured around Massachusetts and Vermont with the Militello. She spent two summers with them so far in Shelburne because they moved here from Massachusetts. Though the trek is longer, Aniya said she enjoys the time away from the busy city.
“I like getting away from the chaos,” Aniya said. “Oh, and making french fries.”
She recounted activities she’s done with her summer family: berry picking, cooking, swimming and shopping. Eating lobsters in Boston is one of Aniya’s favorite memories.
“She does everything we do,” Militello said, adding rock-climbing to Aniya’s list.