Creating ‘Fresh Air’ family vacation memories
By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Marlborough – It’s always an afternoon filled with anticipation when host families volunteering with the Friendly Town program of the Fresh Air Fund wait at the Marlborough Moose Lodge for buses to arrive from New York City. This year, about 65 families from throughout the Metrowest area were there July 20 to pick up guests ranging in age from 6 to 18.
Among those waiting was the Stemple family, of Marlborough: Shannon and Rick with their sons, Nate, 13; Noah, 10; and Nealon, 7. When the buses arrived, they welcomed Justin Cambrelen, 10, of the Bronx. This was the second year the Stemple family hosted him for a one-week vacation.
Shannon researched the possibility of hosting last year and thought it would benefit everyone involved. The Stemples requested to host a boy about the same age as their sons.
“I thought it would be neat not only for the Fresh Air Fund child to see a different perspective,” Shannon said, “but also for our own kids to realize that not everyone else has the same opportunities they do.”
She admits they, like other families, were at first somewhat leery of sharing vacation time with a stranger. Those fears soon vanished when they realized their sons were perfectly compatible with their guest, who is one of a family of three boys.
“Justin fit right in immediately,” she said. “He’s a really easy-going kid and goes with the flow. He plays with all three of our sons. We lucked out.”
The Stemple boys had lots of questions about their guest. First, they wanted to know if he rode a bicycle.
“We did lots of bike riding,” Shannon said, recalling the first vacation with him last year. “That’s one of the things Justin wanted to do because he doesn’t have a spot where he can ride.”
This year, she said, “They picked up right where they left off.”
Since riding bicycles in their neighborhood was popular last summer, this time they took a lengthier bike ride along the Assabet River Rail Trail.
Each year, the Fresh Air Fund arranges activities at several regional attractions for host families. Among this summer’s activities was a drive-in movie night in Mendon for a double feature: “Ice Age: Continental Drift” and “Brave.”
“The kids wanted to stay for both movies, so we didn’t get home until one in the morning,” Shannon said. “They had a great time, playing ball under the screen before the movies started.”
Other activities included a visit to Breezy Picnic Grounds and Waterslides in Douglas, and a pool party at the home of a host family in Southborough.
Shannon said she has recommended hosting to friends, and understands why some might be reluctant.
“People might think they have to do something special each day,” she said. “The most fun we had with Justin was hanging out in the backyard, playing with the dogs, and walking on trails through the woods.”
The Stemple family set a goal after hosting their guest a second time.
“Our goal is to keep more in touch with him throughout the year,” Shannon said. “Our kids asked all throughout last year if Justin could come back. They’ve already asked if he’ll come back again.”
The Fresh Air Fund is an independent, nonprofit agency that has provided free summertime vacations to more than 1.7 million inner-city children since 1877. Each summer, over 4,000 children visit volunteer host families in 13 states and Canada. Families have the option of hosting for one or two weeks.
For information about the program, visit www.freshair.org. To volunteer locally, call Janet Foley at 508-460-3473.
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