February 20, 2024 Category: Fresh Air Fun Our Alums

Our Fresh Air Experiences: Friendly Towns Alumni Share their Stories

In February, The Fresh Air Fund hosted the annual Friendly Towns Conference and welcomed volunteers, host families, staff and alumni to The Fresh Air Fund’s Sharpe Reservation in Fishkill, NY. A highlight of the event was listening to our three alumni guest speakers share their meaningful experiences with their host families and how the program impacted their lives today. 

Shariah Bottex

Shariah first visited her host mother, Linda, when she was seven years old.  

“From day one, her kindness towards me was endless. Every moment I shared with her was precious. She made me the best homemade sandwiches, introduced me to scrapbooking and most importantly, taught me incredibly valuable life lessons.” 

For 11 years, Shariah visited Linda in Vermont and put on fashion shows, went horseback riding and played with her two dogs. To Shariah, Linda was more than a host mother. 

“Linda wasn’t just a host; she was one of my role models – along with my mother. A woman who juggled multiple jobs, volunteered and ran her own successful business – her determination and success inspired me.” 

Shariah (center), her mother, Juliette (left) and her host mother, Linda (right).

Now, Shariah works for The Fresh Air Fund as the Friendly Towns Program Manager. 

“I am proud to say I work for the organization that provided me with unforgettable summer experiences and incredible opportunities. The Fresh Air Fund’s reach extends beyond one week away from home over the summer, it creates connections that will last a lifetime.” 

Qadir Wyche

Qadir spent five summers in Connecticut with the Heath family, whom he now considers a second family. 

“The Heath family provided me with countless opportunities. Each summer, they would sign me up for a different summer camp that allowed me to have fun outside while exploring potential careers paths. I went to an engineering camp, a sports camp and even a clown camp.” 

Because of that summer experience and the support from his family, Qadir is now an electrical engineering student at New York City College of Technology. 

Qadir (right) and his host mother, Nicole (left).

“I cannot thank the Heath family enough for the support and guidance they offered me. My host mother, Nicole, encouraged me to email her once a week so that I could improve my writing. They introduced me to people to help me when I was working on my college application and resume. They wanted to make sure that I was always successful, and still do so much to support me to this day.” 

Now, Qadir gives back to the Fresh Air community by volunteering on the Alumni Advisory Board. 

Margorie Cardenas

The Fresh Air Fund has played a large role in Margorie’s life, both over the summer and during the school year! 

The Fresh Air Fund has been a part of Margorie’s life for 12 years! She visited the Duran family for six summers in New Jersey. The Duran family welcomed Margorie with balloons and a poster, making her feel immediately appreciated. Even though leaving home for the first time can be daunting, Margorie felt supported by the Duran family in countless ways. 

“My host mom would read Calvin and Hobbs to me every night before I fell asleep. To this day, I still read the copy she gave me. It was moments like this that gave me that same warm and fuzzy feeling I had felt at home with my own family. I had found a second home with people who cared for me like a family. 

Her time spent in New Jersey sparked an interest in exploring new environments. This led Margorie to participate in several more Fresh Air programs. 

“My experience with The Fresh Air Fund expands beyond Friendly Towns. My newfound confidence in leaving home prepared me to join the Career Awareness Program and attend Camp Mariah for three weeks over the summer. I then was able to attend the College Connections Program which prepared me for college.” 

Margorie is currently a junior at Alfred State College studying business administration and works as a Tutoring Assistant for The Fresh Air Fund. 

Click here to learn more about volunteering as a Friendly Towns host family and here to sign your child up for Friendly Towns.