SILVER CREEK Everyone has heard of foreign exchange students, however a local family is hosting a child over the summer who is from a little closer to home.
Diane and Tom Neal of Silver Creek are a volunteer host family for the Fresh Air Fund, which allows children from New York City to spend some of their summer vacation out of the city in the country air.
According to its website, the Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer experiences in the country to more than 1.7 million New York City children from disadvantaged communities since 1877. Each year, thousands of children visit volunteer host families in 13 states and Canada through the Friendly Town Program or attend Fresh Air Fund camps.
From left: Diane and Tom Neal of Silver Creek are pictured with their son Sean and daughter Nicole with Fresh Air Fund Child Stephany and their three dogs.
Recently 21 Fresh Air kids arrived in Western New York to spend a couple of weeks out of the city.
One of those children is Stephany, who arrived at the Neals on Tuesday. The Neals have been a host family for the Fresh Air Fund for five years and have hosted Stephany for four of those years.
"I read about it in the PennySaver and knew people at work who had liked doing it. So, I discussed it with my family and we decided to try it. We liked it, we just like to help out," Diane Neal explained.
She said Stephany was 7 when they first hosted her for the summer but is now 10 and is living in Brooklyn.
"She is wonderful, a really good kid. We really enjoy showing her new things and we keep in contact throughout the year. Stephany loves to swim, go to water parks, eat outdoors, play games, make crafts and play with our dogs. We have been to Niagara Falls and gone on the Maid of the Mist. We have taken her to Fantasy Island, Hidden Valley Adventure, the Italian Festival in Buffalo, the beach, camping and horse back riding. She has participated in Vacation Bible School. We are going to Panama Rocks on Friday and the Chautauqua County Fair next week. We go blueberry picking and Stephany takes blueberries home to her family," Diane said.
Diane said her family finds the program rewarding, learning experience.
"Hosting a fresh air child has been a rewarding experience for both Stephany and my family. It has given us an opportunity to learn about another culture. Stephany is originally from Mexico and spoke very little English and we spoke very little Spanish which we first found challenging. We decided to participate in the program to help a child from a less fortunate family. Really we have been the fortunate ones as spending time with Stephany has been more rewarding than we ever expected. We keep in contact with Stephany throughout the year and look forward to her return each summer," she added.
This year 21 Fresh Air children came to Western New York to spend summer vacations with volunteer host families in Lake View, Amherst, Buffalo, Cattaraugus, Holland, Williamsville, Alden, Lancaster, Arcade, Freedom, Silver Creek, West Valley, Chaffee, East Aurora, Kenmore, Akron, Warsaw, Grand Island, and Bergen. These kids were just a few of the more than 4,000 children that visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada.
Fresh Air children are selected based on financial need and are registered by more than 90 social service and community organizations in all five boroughs of New York City.
Fresh Air volunteer host families open their homes to inner-city children ages six to 18 for one to two weeks in the summertime.
Host families are chosen by a committee which reviews applications, references and visits their homes. There are no financial requirements for hosting a Fresh Air child and the majority of hosts simply want to share their homes with inner-city youngsters.
Host families are not paid and the not-for-profit organization runs on volunteer efforts and donations. For more information on the Fresh Air Fund visit www.freshair.org.