UTICA — The Fresh Air Fund Utica Area Committee welcomed a small group of New York City children Aug. 16 to spend 1-2 weeks with host families from Clark Mills, West Leyden, Forestport, Boonville, Verona and Poland.
Each summer volunteer host families share their summers with Fresh Air children, ages 7-18. A Fresh Air summer means running barefoot in the backyard, riding bikes down country roads, learning to swim, catching fireflies, building sand castles on the beach and making new friends.
Kristy LaBour, of West Leyden, was waiting anxiously for her family’s host child, Damian Guaman, 7, to arrive by bus at the parking lot of Aqua Vino restaurant in Utica. She brought with her son Franklin, 5, and daughter, Ida Mae, 3.
“We have so much space, I figured this would be a fun way to share that space and share a new perspective with someone who has never experienced that,” said LaBour as for her reason for hosting a child. This is the first year her family has participated in the Fresh Air program.
“They (Fresh Air kids) can see all the wide open spaces, and I also wanted my children for recognize that not everyone has the same things they have,” she said.
LaBour said this was also the first year that Damian was participating in the program and would be spending time in upstate New York.
“I’ve been talking to his mom and we’ve been Facetiming each other,” the mother said. “We have so much planned. The kids are really excited.”
Emily Olney, of Westernville, has been hosting a Fresh Air kid for 10 years “and we’re on our third girl,” she smiled.
“There was only one year we skipped because our host child had a sudden death in the family and couldn’t attend,” she said.
Olney was expecting 10-year-old Ashley, of Queens.
“She’s never been away from home, so this should be interesting for at least a day or two,” Olney said, adding that she had “lots of swimming and boating” planned on Lake Delta during Ashley’s stay.
Olney said she has participated as a host for the Fresh Air program for about a decade because “It makes the summer more fun for us. It gives us an opportunity to show them all these new things, but it also makes us slow down and appreciate the lake and outdoors, and all that we have here.”
This was the second year Paul Head and Ann Carey, of Clark Mills, were hosting a child and got involved in the program to give a special experience to their now 12-year-old daughter, Darcy. Darcy considers Sierra Cuevas, of Manhattan, her “Fresh Air sister.”
Carey said the family was planning several outings, including a trip to the Renaissance Faire this weekend in Sterling, a tour of Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, and a tour of Matt Brewing Company for a taste of Saranac Root Beer. They also plan to spend a couple nights at the family camp up north, Head said.
“I highly recommend being part of this program to area families,” Carey said. “Part of the reason for our involvement is because we have an only child, and we want her to forge relationships and friendships with others her own age.”
“We have enough for us, so why not share what we have with other people?,” said Head.