By Julie Shamgochian, Contributing Writer
Northborough- Central Massachusetts families gathered July 16 at the St. Rose of Lima Parish anticipating the afternoon arrival of 29 New York City children, who were due to spend some time in the region courtesy of the Fresh Air Fund.
Host families held colorful homemade signs as conversations about the children, past activities, and memories were shared.
The organization was founded in 1877 as a Christian organization by Revered Willard Parsons of Pennsylvania. According to its website, the fund “ was created with one simple mission – to allow children living in low-income communities to get away from hot, noisy city streets and enjoy free summer experiences in the country.”
“This organization is a way to give back to city kids. It started back when horses and buggies were around and now thousands of children not only visit suburban communities but also countries like Canada,” Eileen Palmer, a volunteer with the Central Massachusetts Committee, said.
This not-for-profit agency has served a total of 1.8 million low-income New York City children, ages six to 18, through a variety of programs. Children typically stay a week or two with their families but many returning children often stay for longer periods of times with their host families.
Host families from Northborough, Concord, Bolton, Hudson, Acton, Hopkinton, Gloucester, Orleans, Amherst, Marlborough, Westford, Southborough, North Brookfield, and Paxton welcomed both first-time children, and consecutive year visitors at the St. Rose of Lima event.
The Golding family from Gloucester truly believes in the mission behind Fresh Air as wife, Sally, was once a Fresh Air child herself.
Her husband Jonathan reflected back on his first time 10 years ago meeting a young girl, Venis, recalling her unique features and affectionate character.
Venis, now 16, has established a very special relationship with the Goldings.
To kick off her summer visit, the Goldings’ daughter, Elizabeth, planned on stopping by a local mall with Venis so that they could continue their annual tradition of buying matching pajamas. Trips to Amherst and Smith College were also in the family’s plans.
The Wheeler family of Shrewsbury, is hosting two eight-year-old boys, Jelani and Shamal, for the first time this summer.
Shelle Wheeler said, “I am bringing both boys to Fresh Air sponsored events, which are taking place at the Worcester Bravehearts and Water Country,” among other activities.
Shelle and her husband Phil were also looking forward to hiking Wachusett Mountain and traveling to Cape Cod with Jelani and Shamal.
17-year-old Malik, from Harlem, N.Y. has spent nine consecutive summers with the North family, also from Shrewsbury.
Julie North said, “We first hosted Malik when he was just eight-years-old and we have watched him change over the years. He is a part of the family.”
Malik said he was very thankful to be apart of this opportunity as he finds the suburbs to be “more peaceful than the city life.”
“This experience has taught me to be more responsible and that honesty is the best policy,” he added. “During my time here I will be looking for a job…I wish all my friends could do this too.”