August 27, 2020 Category: Stories

Then and Now: Because a Summer can Last a Lifetime

Fresh Air summers are filled with excitement, joy and new experiences from watching sunsets together to learning to swim and exploring the outdoors. The Friendly Towns program brings volunteer host families and Fresh Air children together. While they celebrate their differences, they also learn the many things they have in common. For many NYC children the experience is life changing. Fresh Air alumni and host families share with us that they have learned that a summer really can last a lifetime.

The Weir family of Ramsey, NJ and Matthew Diaz from the Bronx

18-year-old Matthew first visited the Weir family from Ramsey, NJ in 2011 at just nine-years-old. Every summer, Matthew and his host brothers, Matthew and Patrick, enjoy riding bikes around the neighborhood, playing sports, fishing and going to the beach. The brothers affectionately call Matthew “M.D.” to avoid any confusion between the two.

“The Fresh Air Fund experience has changed all of our lives, not just his. We are very proud of him. My boys have gained a brother,” host mom, Cindy said.

Matthew, now 18, continues to have a close relationship with his host brothers, Patrick and Matthew.

For Matthew, summers with the Weir family helped him to step outside his comfort zone, try new thing and broaden his horizons. “The Weirs have influenced every decision I’ve made. If I’d have never left the Bronx, I’m not sure where I’d be now. The Fresh Air Fund gave me an opportunity that changed the course of my life,” Matthew said.

The Clickner family from Saratoga County, NY and Yeisy from the Bronx

“Supporting each other is an important factor in our relationship. It’s definitely changed through the years – bonding together, encountering new challenges, being open minded and encouraging,” says host mom Heather about her family’s relationship with Yeisy.

12-year-old Yeisy started visiting the Clickner family in Saratoga County, NY in 2014. Every summer since then included a new adventure for Yeisy from parasailing to fishing. She loves to challenge herself and always try something new.

Yeisy and host mom, Heather, have made going to the garden and gathering fresh fruit together an annual tradition.

“When Yeisy visits, we just go, go, go – it’s really fun! When we’re doing a new activity, she also challenges us to take part in it – like the time we went to the high ropes course. In one day, we completed four of the five levels,” host mom, Heather said.

When Yeisy first visited, she was shy and quiet but every summer the Clickner family has seen her grow to be more confident and independent. Heather says, “It’s really interesting how you can build such strong relationships so quickly through the program. It’s been such a positive experience.”

The Tornatore family of Stamford, CT and Harlen from Manhattan

12-year-old Harlen from Manhattan has been visiting the Tornatore family in Stamford, CT for five summers. Harlen’s become part of the Tornatore family and even travels with them to Cape Cod where his favorite activities include swimming and fishing.

“During his second summer with us, we went to Brownstone waterpark and Harlen was afraid to try diving into the water and then after seeing my son do it I saw Harlen step out of his comfort zone and try it. I love his smile when he would overcome something,” host mom, Allyson reflecting on her favorite Fresh Air memory.

12-year-old Harlen during his first summer and most recent visit (summer 2019) with the Tornatore family.

The Tornatore family often stays in touch with Harlen through phone calls, emails and cards they send on special occasions like birthdays and Christmas.

Allyson remembers fondly fun summer memories like playing sports, bike riding and simply relaxing outdoors.  She says “The program has been a fantastic opportunity for my family for the past five years. Harlen brings our family closer together.”

Learn more about The Friendly Towns Program and follow us on Instagram: @thefreshairfund, Facebook: @FreshAirFund and Twitter: @FreshAirFund for more stories of how a summer can last a lifetime.