By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — On July 12, a handful of low-income children ages seven to 16 from New York City are scheduled to arrive by bus at the Hilton in Durham.
Greeting the children will be a local volunteer for the New York City-based Fresh Air Fund, and families from Raleigh that each will host one of the children for a week.
Two weeks later, a second handful of New York City children will arrive at the Hilton on a bus for a one-week stay with a second group of local families.
“Families will learn things about themselves and about someone who comes from such a different environment, and they will also see how many similarities they have,” says Brandy Shaw, a commercial real estate paralegal for Moore & Alphin in Raleigh who serves as volunteer chair for the Fresh Air Fund in the Triangle.
Formed in 1877 to provide free summer experiences for children living in low-income communities in New York City, the Fresh Air Fund has served over 1.8 million children in need.
In 2016, nearly 7,000 children visited the homes of volunteer host families on the East Coast of the U.S. and in Southern Canada, or visited one of the Fund’s five camps in upstate New York.
As part of a larger effort to connect New York City kids with host families in more parts of the U.S., the Fund expanded to North Carolina in 2013, initially in the Triad, and then to the Triangle in 2014.
Thirty-six have visited the state since 2013, and another 20 are expected to visit this summer, some in the Triangle and some in the Triad.
Local families that apply to the Fresh Air Fund to host a child for a week typically find out about the organization online or by word-of-mouth, says Shaw.
And based on the relationships that develop, some children may stay with a family for longer than two weeks or continue to return over many summers or other parts of the year.
Before moving to North Carolina in 2007, Shaw served as a volunteer escort for the Fresh Air Fund in upstate New York, where her mother, her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s mother all had volunteered for the organization.
Her role is to visit applicant families, which must fill out a form designed to help the Fresh Air Fund determine whether they will provide a safe environment and engage the children they are hosting in activities such as boating, bicycling, camping, visiting parks and going bowling or to movies.
Based on the forms, the Fresh Air Fund selects host families and matches children with them.
Shaw greets the children when they arrive by bus, plans a picnic or other activity for all the families, and is on hand when the families drop off the children for the bus ride back to New York City.
The Fresh Air Fund, Shaw says, “would like to see more kids coming to North Carolina and other areas and see a different place than they otherwise would not have experienced.”