Written by Betsy Abraham, Babraham@antonnews.com Friday, 08 March 2013 00:00
It all began with a flier.
When Lisa Haime’s son came home from school with a flier about the Fresh Air Fund, a nonprofit organization that allows inner city kids a chance to spend a week in the suburbs with a host family during the summer, she knew she had to be involved.
“I knew immediately it was what I wanted to do. These kids don’t have much and I thought it would be a good chance to make a difference,” Haime said.
But just because she was convinced, did not mean her husband was. There were initial hesitations, but after Haime photocopied the flier and put copies all over the house, her husband jumped on board. After contacting a local coordinator and going through an in house interview, background and reference checks, they were accepted into the Host Family program.
The Haimes were one of 117 Long Island families to host a child last summer. Across the Northeast, more than 4,000 children and teenagers, from the ages of 6 to 18, participated in the program, escaping life in the cramped, noisy city to enjoy the quiet, spaciousness of the suburbs or country. Children are matched with families based on factors such as age, gender and activity preferences.
One of those children was Abraham, a 9-year-old boy from the Bronx who was placed in the Haimes’ home in Old Bethpage for a week in July.
Haime says that at first, her two boys, ages 9 and 7, had to warm up to having a new addition. Abraham too was shy at first. But it was only a matter of hours before the boys had accepted Abraham as part of their home and the three were all smiles.
“It’s a little bit of an adjustment having someone you’re sharing everything with. It’s also a child that’s very different than you,” Haime noted. “But I think it was a good experience for everyone and they’re looking forward to seeing him again.”
Abraham enjoyed a week of free, fun activities such as riding roller coasters at Adventureland, boogey boarding at Fire Island and playing board games-opportunities that are not usually available to him.
Haime says that other families across Long Island who were also hosting a child came together to offer fun activities. One family coordinated a party at Adventureland, which offered free dinner and rides. A family who owns local bowling alleys, as well as a family who owns a bounce party place all opened up their doors to offer free games and activities for Fresh Air children and their host families.
One of the highlights for Haime was toward the end of the week when she and Abraham were on a hike. The young boy opened up to her about how he felt at peace and safe, a feeling he wasn’t used to in his crime ridden Bronx neighborhood.
“I think it’s such a great experience because he gets to see what it’s like to be around good people who look out for each other. You hope that by spending time with us, he learns to emulate that. I hope he feels that he’s part of something bigger than the Bronx and there’s life beyond that and that he can dream bigger,” Haime said.
Not only did the experience impact Abraham, but it also had an effect on the Haime family.
“I think it helps keep us all grounded. We’re always busy, running from activity to activity. And this helps us realize there’s so much more to life,” Haime said. “My kids are more selfless when they’re around Abraham. I’d like to think they’re more appreciative of what they have here. I hope this shapes their decisions and that they remember this as adults and want to continue to help others.”
Haime says that personally, she now feels like she is responsible for another child.
“I hope he knows he’s not limited. He’s so smart and has so much potential, you just want to keep him on that track. My biggest thing is that when he’s presented with making a bad or good choice, I hope he thinks about us and makes the right choice,” Haime says.
The Haime family still keeps in constant contact with Abraham, who calls often to update the family on life and how school is going. He and his brother were able to spend Thanksgiving with the Haime family, and they hope to host Abraham again this summer.
Haime emphasizes that the Fresh Air Fund is a simple way to have a huge impact on a child.
“We’re just your typical family,” Haime says. “It doesn’t take much to make a difference in these kids’ lives. You don’t have to do much with them, you don’t have to spend a lot of money or plan extravagant things. It’s just the normal stuff.”
The Fresh Air Fund is now taking applications for its summer 2013 program. To learn more and to find out how you can host a child, visit www.freshair.org.