Sign Up To Visit With A Host Family
With safety as our priority, The Fresh Air Fund did not operate the traditional Friendly Towns Program for summer 2021. Any in-person activities or private visits between Fresh Air participants and host families are not part of The Fund’s programming. We encourage host families and NYC families to stay connected and continue to virtually engage. Please read our full letter to Fresh Air families here.
thousands of New York City children visit with volunteer host families who live in rural, suburban, and small town communities along the East Coast and Southern Canada. Host families apply and go through a rigorous screening process that includes an in-home interview and background check.
Is your child excited to learn to swim, build sandcastles at the beach, ride a bike or camp out? We ask our host families to tell us all the fun activities they will do so we can make the best match for each child. Many children form close friendships with their host families and return to the same host family year after year.
First time visits are one to two weeks. After the first summer, children may stay for a longer visit. Children need to be 7-13 years old to register for the first time.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Who Can Go To Friendly Towns?
- Where will my child be staying?
- Why do many parents select Friendly Towns for their child's summer experience?
- How are the host families selected and screened?
- Who supervises the host families while my child is staying with them?
- When will I know where my child is going?
- Can siblings be placed with the same host family?
- What will I know about the family my child is visiting?
- How will my child travel to their Friendly Town?
- What things should a child NOT bring with them?
- How can I communicate with my child while he/she is away?
- What if my child gets sick?
Who Can Go To Friendly Towns?
Friendly Towns accepts new children between the ages of 7-13. If children are invited to return to the same host family, they can continue in the program until they are 18.
Where will my child be staying?
Families from across the East Coast and Southern Canada volunteer to host children through The Fresh Air Fund, and you will be able to choose the family you would like your child to visit. Volunteer hosts live in rural, suburban and small town communities, which we call “Friendly Towns”. These Friendly Towns can be as far away as Maine and Virginia and as close as Long Island and Westchester County.
Why do many parents select Friendly Towns for their child’s summer experience?
Parents tell us that one of the reasons they sign up for Friendly Towns is because their child will be the center of the experience. Host families plan several activities and speak with parents before the trip to learn about their child’s likes and dislikes, and to get a better understanding of what a parent would like their child to get out of the trip. Is it learning to ride a bike, going fishing for the first time, or learning to swim? Parents can also can speak with their child during the trip (as scheduled with the host family), and get pictures – through texts and emails. It is an individual rather than a group experience.
How are the host families selected and screened?
Host families go through a multi-step screening process:
- Prospective host families are pre-screened over the phone.
- Next, an in-person interview is scheduled to take place in the home of the prospective host family. All members of the family must be present as well as any caregivers or others who will be spending large amounts of time with the child (grandparents who live nearby, cousins, etc.).The interviewer spends between 1 ½ and 2 hours with the family. The interviewer observes interactions between the family members, discusses the Friendly Towns program, checks the home for safety concerns, and covers many other important areas (How do the parents communicate with each other? How do the parents communicate with the children? Is there an extra bed for the child? How do the pets behave with a stranger, etc.).
- All adults (18 or older) in a host family’s household have a background check completed through an independent contractor.
- If the interviewer is comfortable with the family (we ask each interviewer to ask themselves “Would I place my own child in this home for two weeks?”), three references are checked. The prospective host family must provide at least one professional reference (a teacher, day care provider, family doctor, etc.).
Who supervises the host families while my child is staying with them?
Each Friendly Town has a Chairperson, a volunteer trained and supervised by The Fresh Air Fund, to oversee all families in their area. The Chairperson checks in with children while they are visiting their host family, and sometimes organizes activities for all host families while the children are visiting. The Chairperson is always available while children are visiting host families in their area. Chairpeople are supervised by the volunteer Fund Representative from their region, and all volunteer leaders are supervised and supported by Fresh Air Fund staff in the New York City office. Support services is available on-call 24/7.
When will I know where my child is going?
After your child’s application is completed, we will register your child for a Friendly Towns experience. A Fresh Air Fund staff member will contact you to provide host family options and to get your final approval. You will be provided with host names, address, phone number, pets, family activities and other important information. Confirmation letters are sent from mid-March through early August.
Can siblings be placed with the same host family?
It is not recommended that siblings be placed with the same host family. We believe every child should have the opportunity to experience new things on their own for their individualized growth and development. The time that they spend with their family is unique and this provides them with the opportunity to develop long lasting relationships.
What will I know about the family my child is visiting?
The invitation lists the host names, address, phone number, pets and family activities. We strongly encourage you and the host family to communicate with each other, by phone or mail, prior to your child’s vacation.
How will my child travel to their Friendly Town?
Children travel to their host family by Fresh Air Fund charter buses, leaving from The Port Authority Bus Terminal. Your confirmation letter will tell you the date, time and location of your child’s departure and return.
What things should a child NOT bring with them?
Money, valuable items including jewelry, electronic equipment such as portable games or music players. It is not recommended that your child bring a cell phone to their host family.
How can I communicate with my child while he/she is away?
You should receive a safe arrival call from the host family when your child arrives at the host home. If you do not receive a call, you are more than welcome to call The Fresh Air Fund. Please remember, it can take all day to travel to a Friendly Town (depending on where the host lives). Even if the bus is due to arrive in the Friendly Town at 3:00 PM, the family might live another hour away from the bus stop and/or the family might choose to go out for dinner or to stop for ice cream along the way. Do not worry if you don’t hear from the family until bedtime on the first night.
You should discuss how often you will speak with your child before they leave, and then confirm your confirmation schedule once your child arrives. Phone calls sometimes make a child homesick. Please do not call, especially at night, if you sense that your child is homesick. Hearing your voice can make it harder for a child to adjust to their new environment. We suggest that you call at the start of the day, when your child is excited and can share with you the planned activities for the day. Feel free to contact the host family for updates without speaking to your child.
You can also write to your child. It is always fun for a child to receive mail while away from home.
What if my child gets sick?
If your child gets hurt, no matter how ‘minor,’ the family will let their Fresh Air Fund volunteer leader know. If there is an emergency, the Host Family will take your child to the hospital and will call our Support Services staff. Our staff work directly with the Host Family, and hospital or clinic, to ensure your child is fine. The Support Services staff will call you and let you know as soon as they have all of the details. Even if the Host Family calls you, we will call you to ensure you are aware of everything happening.