January 08, 2023 Category: Our Impact Our Programs Our Alums

Then and Now: How One Summer Became a 20 Year Friendship 

Curtis Brown first visited the VanGelder family from Mashpee, Massachusetts, at 6-years-old, through The Fresh Air Fund’s Friendly Towns Program.  

“I saw them hanging out with a sign and they cheered my name!  I was there, just waving at them. Automatically when they smiled, I knew it was going to be the greatest time of my life,” Curtis said.  

Curtis and the VanGelders enjoyed summer days at the beach. 

Curtis spent ten summers with the VanGelders filled with excitement and creating memories. Host mom, Courtney, often looks back and remembers all the special moments her children and Curtis spent together and how they grew into brothers. 

“I live in an area near the ocean. Spending time in the outdoors was the best because I have three boys of my own and Curtis fell right between my children’s ages. We went camping, swimming and biking.  We also liked just being in the yard and playing. They would play games with all the neighbors and go to the beach,” Courtney shared.  

Curtis and his host brothers enjoy playing in the yard with the family dog.

Curtis remembers amazing adventures like jet skiing, riding a four-wheeler and even scuba diving! For Curtis, many of his Fresh Air summer experiences helped shape Curtis and his future.  

“Once I grew up, I started to realize that I wanted more for not just myself but for my family as well. I decided to strive to do the best I could, move forward and have an adventure with my life because I only have one. It was a big eye opener for me,” shared Curtis. 

Curtis with his wife Tina and daughter Eva, 5.

Over 20 years since his first Fresh Air summer, Curtis is in the military working as an active-duty ammunition specialist. Today, Curtis continues to carry out the lessons he learned during his Friendly Towns summers.  

“He visited every single year until he aged out of the program. Curtis even came to visit us for many Christmas celebrations. We also had his siblings come to meet us and we visited his family over the years. Even now that he’s an adult, married and has a child, we continue to speak to him almost once a week,” Courtney said. 

Curtis reunites with the VanGelder family. 

Courtney shared the same sentiment about being a host family saying, “To my children, he became another brother. I recommend volunteering as a host family to anybody. It’s a great experience for the entire family. I think a lot of people do it for their child, but it does impact everybody in the family. It could possibly end up like we did with a lifelong friend.”