#FreshAirForever: From New York to Connecticut to Georgia, A Bond That Will Last a Lifetime
Summers with Friendly Towns are an incredible opportunity to explore a new environment and discover new interests. For many participants, it is also an opportunity to create relationships that will last a lifetime. To find a new friend to camp out under a sky full of stars in the backyard with or bake you a giant, homemade chocolate chip cookie cake as a “welcome back” treat! And, to find an additional network of people that will support you as you grow up.
For Fresh Air alum Roberto, this is exactly what he found with the Gable-Newkirk family.
Roberto’s Fresh Air journey began in 2001. At 8 years old, Roberto from Brooklyn went to visit Ridgefield, Connecticut for the first time and spent a week with the Gable-Newkirk family. As he boarded the bus leaving the city, he had no idea that the upcoming week would change his life. In Ridgefield, Roberto would discover his love for nature and meet people who would become an influential part of his life.
As a young child, Roberto really wanted to have a little brother or sister (he later had younger twin brothers!), and one of the reasons his mom signed him up for the Friendly Towns program was so he could experience having a host brother.
At the same time, Allison, Roberto’s host-mother, was also looking for an opportunity for her son, who is an only child. She discovered The Fresh Air Fund and joined as a volunteer.
“He really became a part of the family,” said Allison. “He visited us for holidays and birthdays. My son was about a year and a half younger, and they bonded instantly as ‘brothers.’”
From the moment Roberto arrived in Ridgefield, he and his host-brother, Harry, were inseparable! Every summer for the next ten years, the two packed as much fun as possible into their week together. Between swimming in the pool to hiking through the mountains, the boys were always having an adventure.
“They’re such amazing people,” shared Roberto. “Harry was like a brother to me instantly. I just loved hanging out with him. From going on trips together to talking about college and high school, it was just a beautiful connection to have.”
Roberto wasn’t the only member of his family to have a Friendly Towns experience. Allison, who became a volunteer leader with The Fresh Air Fund, encouraged more families from her town to join the program and years later, his younger twin brothers followed in his footsteps. They joined him in Ridgefield to stay with separate nearby host families.
“We went from having four host families to 25 in our town,” said Allison. “I had helped connect Roberto’s brothers to visit families in Ridgefield too, so a lot of times all three of the brothers would be at my house. I even became friends with Roberto’s mom over the years. Our families just really meshed.”
Fast forward over 20 years later, and the families reunited at Roberto’s wedding in Georgia! After growing up in NYC, Roberto took the leap and moved to Georgia, where his wife is from. For some, a move from a major city to a more rural town would be a difficult transition. But Roberto’s ten summers spent in Connecticut helped him acclimate to his new lifestyle.
“I mean look at me now. I was somebody who lived in the city for close to thirty years,” said Roberto. “I’m now living in Georgia having a whole new life that I would have never imagined. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Roberto now claims that he has “basically become a farmer,” as his backyard is full of chickens and little animals. He has warmly embraced his new life in Georgia and is grateful for the people that helped him along the way.
“Visiting Ridgefield every summer was part of the reason why I wanted to live in a more country environment. I was able to experience the beauty of nature and the world, and that was all thanks to the Friendly Towns program,” shared Roberto.
Click here for more information on the Friendly Towns program.