Claire Duckmanton, originally from the UK and a former East Side resident, lives in Seekonk, MA, with her husband and three children (ages 2, 8, and 13). Below she shares her experience as a Fresh Air Fund host family and her role as the local chairperson for the Fresh Air Fund.
A few years ago, my family and I moved from the East Side of Providence to Seekonk, MA. The time had come to give our growing family the outdoor space they really needed and wanted. Walking around Thayer Street and stopping for coffee gave my kids less pleasure than it did me! With the move came a sort of mid-life crisis thing. We bought a dog, a rabbit, and even six egg-laying chickens. My husband put his foot down when I talked about a goat. Our new home environment was everything we had hoped for, and it seemed selfish to keep it to ourselves. A friend told me a little about the Fresh Air Fund and I was excited to find out more. After some online research, we decided it was just what we were looking for–an opportunity to give something back.
The Fresh Air Fund has been providing free vacations to inner-city kids from low-income neighborhoods in New York City for over one hundred years. Families are invited to open their home and hearts to a child for two weeks during the summer. Once we decided to become a host family, our wondrous journey began. Our first visitor was Alsheek (in 2005), a nine-year-old boy from Brooklyn. He left New York on a bus with thirty other Fresh Air children, escorted by volunteers, leaving his parents behind at the city bus stop. Can you imagine taking a six-hour bus ride and arriving to meet a family you’ve never even seen before? Some of these children are as young as six years old. Alsheek quickly settled in and the fun began. It was wonderful for us to see Alsheek enjoying the simple things we take for granted like riding a bike, swimming, and going to the beach. Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games. The experience can be a challenge as the kids and families adjust to one another–my children struggled with Alsheek wanting to play twenty-four hours a day and waking them go swimming at 6:00 a.m. It took patience and understanding, but the rewards for all of us far outweighed any hiccups. We did not host a child in 2006 because I gave birth to my third child a month before the Fresh Air kids’ visit. Since then we have hosted Kyra, 10, and a young boy named David in 2007. And this year we are excited to welcome Kyra back for another visit. Children who are re-invited by host families may continue with the Fund until they are eighteen years old.
Four years later, and I am now the local chairperson for the Fresh Air Fund. I see my role as ambassador, publicist, and recruiter of families who are ready, willing, and able to make a difference in a child’s life.
If you would like to learn more, please contact me at 508-761-8242 or 401-301-4090.
Fresh Air Fund website: www.freshair.org
Trip dates this year for local area: July 10 — July 23
Deadline for applications: Early June
Application process: Interested families call Claire on the phone to discuss program details, followed by an interview in the family’s home. Families fill out an application, including four references, and undergo a background check. There are no fees. Children on first-time visits are six to twelve years old. Host families can pick the age and gender of the child they’d like to host.
Photo Credit: Claire Duckmanton. Top L: Kyra with Felix. Top R: Kyra with Georgie and Isabel. Bottom: Alsheek.