Reflections on Fresh Air Fund

For the past few years we’ve hosted a Fresh Air Fund child. Fresh Air Fund is an organization dedicated to bringing intercity, below-poverty-line, children into the suburbs to experience life outside of the city and provide them with an opportunity they couldn’t otherwise afford.

A friend just signed up and asked me my advice, and here’s what I sent. I love doing it and encourage anyone who’s interested to try out a week. Here are some things to expect:

  • Expect tears. They’re young. If it’s too close to bedtime there can be serious waterworks. Even for grownups bedtime/nighttime is where all the angst sets in… and going all day without parental contact can be hard. We’ve found it’s best to plan for scheduled calls right after dinner time most nights (esp. the first few and also around day 4-5 when they’ve had time to process). This way kids are fed and happy, and you can have some sort of game or activity ready to go right afterwards so they can be excited about getting off the phone too.
  • Parents may call after hours to find out what’s going on. They can be concerned about the tears, even if those are the only tears all day.
  • It’s hard to be around white people all day and at least the younger children we’ve invited just aren’t used to being the only dark-skinned person they see all day. It’s good to be sensitive about this.
  • Intercity schools aren’t as good as suburban Massachusetts schools, so expect them to be a grade level or two behind what we would expect. This can cause insecurity. We warn our kids about teasing or gloating about this. We’re a very academic/math-based family and we don’t dumb that down when we have guests but we let them participate at whatever level they want to.
  • Our kids are introverts. They’d rather be on a computer or doing math or doing a tame game than outside all day. The couple of Fresh Air Fund kids that have stayed with us are the opposite. We found ourselves leaning on neighborhood kids sometimes to hang out outside with them and go on bike rides while our kids stay home.
  • Our kids need downtime too. City life is more direct than we’re used to in Northampton. Things that are perceived as basic interactions in the city are labeled as “bullying” here in Northampton and it can come off as confrontational, esp. when the “guest” is here for a week and gets special rules. We try to make sure that a grown up spends some one-on-one time with each of our kids every day… even if it’s only 10 minutes.
  • It’s really fun and exciting to see them grow. They all have surprising skills and traits. Jerome, who visited us 3 years ago, was SO great with Tristan who was two months old at the time. The baby just calmed him down and he was so patient and relaxed. Ariel, who’s visited a couple of times, just LOVES swimming. She’s like a fish and blows away any of my kids which was good to have something that she was better than older kids at. It made her feel good and my kids were fine with that.
  • These kids are so brave. Imagine going and staying with strangers from another culture and not even having a cell phone to connect you to your life without asking permission! Now imagine doing it as a 6 or 8 year old!
  • Little kids LOVE animals. Ladybugs. Turtles. Whatever you can find. Try a zoo or a beach with animals if you’re stuck for ideas.

It’s really fun and rewarding but a LOT more work than a new baby (even our first child) or a new puppy.

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