Forging new friendships and reuniting second families, the Fresh Air Fund brought a number of city kids to the suburbs Saturday.
Fifty-seven youngsters ranging in age from 6 to 18 years old traveled from New York City to spend time in the Fairfield-Westport area with a host family. Some were visiting for the first time, while others returned to a big welcome from locals who have become like a second family. The group of visitors was met at Fairfield Ludlowe High School by their hosts.
"I love it," said Shniyah Welch, 14, of Brooklyn, who came to stay with the Greene family of Weston for the fifth time. "I love them. They're like my second family."
"In New York City you can't really do the same things you can do in Connecticut," she said, "and it's fun."
"It's so awesome," said Taylor Greene, 14, who, along with her two sisters, met Shniyah with specially designed costumes and sign of welcome. "She's like a part of the family. We're all just so comfortable with each other. It's like one giant playdate."
"The Fresh Air Fund is about giving kids a chance to get out of the city and giving them a chance to have a vacation out in the suburbs," said Martha Mintzer of Weston, an area representative for the Fresh Air Fund, who herself hosts two sisters from Manhattan, N.Y.
While there is a general screening process to be a host family with the 137-year-old organization, she said all kinds of families open their homes for a week or two to the city kids. "We have empty-nesters," she said. "We have grandparents ... same-sex couples ... We take all types of families. You just have to be able to open up your heart and your home to a kid and show them a good time."
"Whoever invented this had really good thinking," said Genesis Rocha-Vargas, 13, who is staying with Mintzer's family for a fifth year. "And it helps many kids have fun."
"We go swimming," she said. "We do arts and crafts. We do our nails. We play with the dogs. We go strawberry picking ... It's just fun!"
"It makes a huge impact," Mintzer said, "(and) everybody gains from this. Host families get as much out of this as the city kids."
"We used to live in Brooklyn," said Diana Cadan of Fairfield. "I know how the situation is. There's no place for the kids to play, so it's good for them to come and see Mother Nature."
"It's great," said Jeff Rubin of Westport, who is hosting a boy named John, who is his own son Abe's age of 12, for the second year. "It was great to give John the experience here and to enjoy all the things we have in Westport that people take for granted."
"It's always really fun hanging out with him," Abe said.