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One Family’s Fresh Air Fund Tradition

Opening their home and hearts

each summer for 12 years  

The Fresh Air Fund had made an impression on Syosset mom Eileen Rauchenberger. Over the years, she had read about families hosting city children in the summer, and one day she decided to join them.

Since 1877, The Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer experiences in the country to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities.  

After an initial interview and background check, the Rauchenberger family—Eileen, Louis and their children, Louis Jr, Sarah and Julia—were on their way to hosting their first child. That was 12 years ago and the experience has made a lasting and positive impact on their family.

Rauchenberger set out to integrate the entire family in the process. The first summer, the family chose two children the same age as Rauchenberger’s two eldest children. They hosted a six-year-old boy and eight-year-old girl, who ended up spending three summers with the family.

This year, Veronica and Karina, who have visited with the Rauchenbergers for the last five years, are coming back for another stay. The sisters, who are 13 and 14, respectively, are city kids being raised by a single mother who works full time. With five children in their family, the opportunity for a one-week vacation with the Rauchenberger family is a welcome reprieve for the girls and their mother.

“They are incredibly thankful,” Rauchenberger says. “Their mother has written to me and expressed her gratitude, and the girls, though they are quiet, have shown their appreciation.”

For families considering participation in the Fresh Air Fund, Rauchenberger, with 12 years of experience under her belt, advises that it’s truly not that difficult. Her best advice is to just absorb the children into your routine. Initially, she frantically tried to fill every minute with activities. She eventually learned that it’s okay to just hang out.

“Veronica and Karina have become part of our family,” said Rauchenberger. “They pitch in and help to set the table and make their beds just like my own children.”

Rauchenberger wanted her children to benefit from the experience but says she has gained perspective as well.

“To know that I have helped this family makes me smile,” explains Rauchenberger. “I wanted my children to feel grateful but I too have gained a greater sense of appreciation.”

Rauchenberger encourages families to look beyond whatever barriers you feel to hosting and try it. Children can visit for one week at a time to get started.

“You don’t need to live in a mansion or host hourly activities,” Rauchenberger. “It’s really about welcoming the children into your family and enjoying summer.” Simple summer activities the family has enjoyed include holding barbecues, roasting marshmallows, going to the beach and catching fireflies.

If your children are attending camp, one tip Rauchenberger offered is to ask about scholarships for the visiting children. In years past, this option has worked for her.

For the Rauchenberger children, being a host family has become a tradition. Louis, who is now 20, Sara, who is 18, and 16-year-old Julia are still eager to participate in activities such as game night or going to the movies.

Karina shared that her experience has been very positive and fun. She just caught a 24 inch fluke in Montauk, her first fishing boat experience.

“There are no worries here,” shared Karina. “You can just be yourself.”

Her sister Veronica echoed the sentiment. She said she enjoys trying new activities and having fun. The one-week stay is something both sisters look forward to. She referred to the Rauchenberger children as her second set of siblings. Julia Rauchenberger, now a sophomore at Syosset High School, was initially wary of hosting children at her house but those fears have subsided.

“It’s a great experience,” she added. “You begin to realize how some kids have a harder life and it has been great to see them enjoy themselves here and experience so many things we take for granted.”

For further information, visit www.freshairfund.org.