MIDDLESEX — The rural delights of Vermont are a big attraction for a 12-year-old New York City girl who arrived Wednesday for her fourth annual visit, courtesy of the Fresh Air Fund.
Each year, thousands of FAF children experience outdoor summer adventures through visits with volunteer host families, and also participate in academic enrichment and leadership programs throughout the school year.
Melea, who lives with her mother and grandmother in Queens, will spend a week with the Budliger-Farber family in Middlesex, renewing bonds that began when she was eight years old after her first FAF trip to Vermont four years ago. (The FAF guests are only identified by their first name.)
The family was on hand to greet Melea at Montpelier High School, after an eight-hour trip from New York City that left her a little travel sick, but otherwise glad to be back in Vermont.
“What I like about Vermont is it’s not like New York, where it’s loud,” Melea said. “In Vermont, I like the outdoors, with not so many buildings.”
She went on: “I really want to go fishing — fishing is number one for me.” Melea listed other planned activities that included swimming, horse riding, kayaking, biking and dancing.
Katy Farber said she signed up as a host family after seeing a poster about the program.
“I was a teacher at Rumney Memorial School, a sixth-grade teacher, and I have two daughters,” Farber said. “I was passing through the lobby of the school and saw a poster that had kids holding hands and jumping into water together. It said something about welcoming a Fresh Air Fund friend to come up and stay with your family.”
She went on: “That stuck with me, and at some point, I took the number down and gave them a call. I knew that my daughters and I loved to do summer adventures and just love Vermont in the summer. We thought this would be a great way to meet a new friend and share Vermont and if someone wants to come out of the city — we love to go to the city too — we wanted to give kids as much opportunity as possible.”.
Farber said she worked on pairing a FAF child that was about the same age as her younger daughter. Farber said the first match with a child fell through when the child did not make the trip because of a family situation at home. But the next day, FAF officials were able to match the family with Melea, who has been back every year since.
“She was eight and she seemed so brave to come up on a bus by herself,” Farber said. “We love her, and she radiates energy and enthusiasm and she just fell in love with nature and being outside. We’ve been delighted to host her ever since.”
While in Vermont, Farber said, Melea enjoys playing in the family’s yard and catching newts and frogs in the overgrown pond, cooling off at local swimming holes in Middlesex, visiting a friend’s cabin in Woodbury, and swimming and kayaking at Greenwood Lake. Other trips were made to Farber’s sister-in-law who lives on Collins Pond in Hyde Park, and to Shelburne Farms and Jay Peak.
The family is planning a trip to Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover, because Melea has an interest in puppets after seeing some at a pop concert on her trip to Vermont last year, Farber added.
Children are eligible to participate in the fund’s free programs based on financial need, and are registered by social service and community organizations in all five boroughs of New York City. Boys and girls stay with volunteer host families for one- or two-week visits in rural, suburban and small-town communities along the East Coast and in southern Canada.
Children learn to swim, pick blueberries, ride bikes and discover other wonders of rural life. Children on first-time visits are seven to 12 years old and children invited to return may continue through age 18 and often enjoy extended trips.
The Fresh Air Fund began 140 years ago in 1877 and has served more than 1.8 million children to date.
The fund was started by the Rev. Willard Parsons, a minister of a small, rural parish in Sherman, Pennsylvania, who asked members of his congregation to provide country vacations for some of New York City’s neediest children, primarily from the Lower East Side. In the first year, the fund served 60 children.
By 1895, 100,000 New York City children had visited “friendly towns” participating in the program.
In 1928, Marks Memorial Camp was donated to the fund by Charles P. Marks in memory of his wife, Sarah Marks. Situated on 200 acres in northern Dutchess County in New York State, the camp had cabins and facilities for 120 boys.
Several other camps were widely dispersed, but in 1948, William Sharpe’s gift of 1,000 acres of woodland property gave the fund a site to centralize its camping programs. Located in Fishkill, New York, the property was named The Fresh Air Fund’s Sharpe Reservation and features nature trails, lakes and streams, a model farm and planetarium.
In 1977, the fund celebrated 100 years of “serving New York City children in friendly towns,” and more than 1.3 million children served.