Local Fresh Air Fund host shares experiences
The Myler family of Concord has hosted a child through the Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program for the past three years. The Fresh Air Fund has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877. Each summer, more than 4,000 children visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small town communities across 13 states. Michelle Myler told us more about her experiences with Marcus Walters, 10, of the Bronx:
How did you first learn about the Fresh Air Fund?
My grandparents were Fresh Air hosts so I grew up hearing stories and witnessing the long-term relationship they continued over the years, even after their Fresh Air child became an adult. To this day, they correspond through writing and photos. Several other family members have become hosts since then, carrying on the tradition. I knew that someday I would be a Fresh Air host too.
What has been your favorite trip your family has taken with Marcus and why?
We loved taking Marcus to Cape Cod. Forever imprinted in my memory will be his giant smile washing up on shore while riding one wave after another on a boogie board. This was a very special trip since Marcus first came to us three years ago, not being able to swim at all.
What was the most surprising thing Marcus learned while living in New Hampshire?
While eating dinner one night, I excitedly reported to Marcus that the lettuce he was eating came from our garden. He stopped eating and in shock asked if it was the “stuff” that was growing in our yard? I said “yes that is our garden.” He no longer wanted to eat, and I asked where he though lettuce came from. His answer: “the grocery store.” There was a lesson involved in that dinner that night and Marcus soon became fond of eating what we grew in the garden and quickly aspired to wanting a garden of his own in his city plot.
Another surprising thing Marcus learned was when he was trying to fall asleep on the first night he stayed at our house, at 7 years old, and he inquired about hearing cows mooing in the farm behind us, and was concerned. I explained what the noise was and that the cows live on the farm behind our house. Marcus remarked that yes, he had heard of cows and knew that they “jumped over the moon,” according to the nursery rhyme we all know. We take for granted that we have farms all over New Hampshire and in our backyard and that our kids are so familiar with farm animals. That year, Marcus went home with some very valuable information about cows and farms, and learned where burgers come from!
What have your boys learned from Marcus?
My boys learn that the experiences that they have are not universal, such as having cows behind your house, swimming all summer, riding waves, camping, fishing, running around in the grass, and roasting marshmallows all summer long. Many of these experiences are new for Marcus, and he gets very excited about them, although sometimes apprehensive. The most exciting part of camping for example was eating a s’more for the first time ever; another giant smile we will never forget.
This year, we had the chance to drive through the Bronx where Marcus is from. My kids got to see not only how people live differently, and have different experiences, but deep down what they share with Marcus is no different than they are, in many ways. They are boys who love to play ball, whether it be in a grassy field or a city park, it’s ball!
Would you recommend this program to others?
Absolutely! At first we were a little anxious about the “match,” hoping that the experience would work out for everyone and that the boys would all get along. It wasn’t long before we knew it was right for our family. We communicate with Marcus throughout the year and were fortunate to have Marcus’s whole family drive to visit us on Easter. We love to embrace new, wonderful people in our lives and feel that this was a “match” made in heaven. We consider Marcus a part of our family.
Visit freshair.org to learn more about hosting a child.