BRISTOL — Porter and Dave Knight of Bristol have watched their Fresh Air child grow for the past 9 years. This year will be the 10th summer 14-year-old Elijah Hedrington, of the Bronx, has visited the Knights. “He’s fit right into the family since the very beginning,” Knight said. Porter believes that hosting a Fresh Air child is just as eye-opening for her family as it has been for Elijah. “Having a Fresh Air child helps your family grow as much as it helps the child grow. They see things differently but so do you,” she said.
Through the Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program, families from Virginia to Maine and Canada open their homes to New York City children from low-income communities. Since 1877, the Fresh Air Fund has given the joy of a free summer vacation to more than 1.7 million inner-city children, creating thousands of childhood memories in rural, suburban and small-town communities every year.
The Knights heard about the Fresh Air Fund through a local newspaper. When Porter was in high school she was an exchange student, so she’s familiar with sharing a home with new, diverse people. She says she likes meeting people from different places and learning about them, and that’s who the Knights have become as a family. “It’s fun. That’s the bottom line.”
When Elijah visits, the Knights do all of their typical summer activities. They go hiking with their dogs, take camping trips at Half Moon State Park, and canoe and fish on Lake Champlain. Porter says that Elijah enjoys every minute of the family activities and he loves spending time with the Knights’ sons, Liam and Bryson. “If one son is shooting hoops and the other is reading, Elijah can’t decide between them. He’ll just do both and jump from one to the other.”
To Porter, hosting a child is effortless. “You do whatever you would normally do with your kids. What’s the big deal with putting another place at the table or packing one more person into the car to drive everyone to the lake? Many parents find that having two 8-year-olds around is like having no 8-year-olds around. They have brand-new playmates and are occupied for hours.”
The Knight family continues to keep in touch with Elijah even through the cold winter months. For the past seven years Elijah has visited Vermont during his winter breaks, where he spends his free time skiing and sledding. The Knights have even opened their arms to Elijah’s family. In 2010 his mother and two siblings visited the Knights for a week in February, and this year they visited again at Christmas.
For the Knights, having Elijah visit is easy and fun, but also part of a valuable lesson. “It’s not just giving inner-city kids a chance to come here and it’s not just out of the goodness of your heart. It’s also about opening doors for you and your family. It’s an opportunity for your own family, too.”
The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, nonprofit agency, is always seeking volunteer host families to enable as many New York City children as possible to benefit from a summer vacation outside of the city. To learn more about how to become a host family in the Vermont area, contact Marion Sullivan at 802-877-3028 or visit the Fresh Air Fund online at www.freshair.org.
Sullivan said the organization is still looking for families to host children this summer. The trips to Vergennes this summer are July 16-23, July 16-30, Aug. 5-12 and Aug. 13-23. So, they are one week, 10 days or two weeks.
“We are still in need of many more host families and it is definitely not too late to apply to host this summer,” she said.