Volunteers from across the region have opened their doors this summer to inner city children as part of the Fresh Air Fund.
Children and teens arrived July 20 at the Moose Lodge in Marlborough, where they greeted the families that are giving them the opportunity to spend a portion of their summer outdoors.
They may only be here for a couple of weeks, but the friendships stay with them forever, said one volunteer.
“They’re part of your life for the rest of your life,” said Marlborough resident Janet Foley, overseer of local volunteers across the region. Foley said her favorite part as a volunteer is taking the children off the bus at the beginning of the program.
Volunteer host families from Sudbury, Shrewsbury, Bolton, Northborough, Worcester, Marlborough, Berlin, Lincoln and Hudson greeted a total of 29 kids.
The Fresh Air Fund is a program that provides summer vacations in the outdoors to New York City children. For one or two weeks, “over 4,000 children visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada,” according to the Fresh Air website.
Cathy Parker, a Hudson resident, has hosted the same child, Kai Cenat, for four years, she said, adding that her favorite thing is that “he’s so excited about coming.”
Parker’s family is always concerned with making sure Kai feels comfortable, she said. “It’s interesting to interact with him,” said Parker’s son, Jason. “I like teaching him things,” Jason said, adding that he has loved teaching Kai how to swim, dive and kayak.
Sharon Connolly, of Shrewsbury, is hosting her child for the second year this summer, adding that as the fourth girl in Connolly’s family, “she fits right in." She gets better at swimming every day she is here, Connolly said.
At the welcoming event, local residents came with their children and their dogs. Many sported welcome or welcome back signs, as 80 percent of the families in the area were welcoming back children they had hosted in previous years.
As part of the Fresh Air Fund, children ages six to 12 can be hosted by families who volunteer. After going through a strict vetting process, including references and background checks, the host families introduce the New York children to the outdoors of central Massachusetts for up to two weeks, Foley said.
Older children, ages 12-18, can be invited back to stay with families who have already hosted them, a bond that many host families hope for. Connolly said her family exchanged Christmas cards with the child they previously hosted, adding that she is welcome to come to stay with her family “as long as she wants to.”