Whether you’re interviewing people professionally, talking with clients during a business meeting, or simply making casual conversation with people… isn’t it amazing how certain people stand out thanks to their passion?
It’s that kind of passion, zest for life, and energy devoted to a cause or goal that helps us–especially journalists, marketers, public relations professionals–hone in on a message that tells their story.
Some of the most giving, caring people I had the privilege to meet recently, volunteer for an organization called The Fresh Air Fund. The children who benefit from this organization were A JOY to meet and interview as well. My heart is full, changed, inspired, after researching and writing this story… I hope yours is as well:
Click here to read A Breath of Fresh Air, published in the July/August issue of Celebrate Gettysburg magazine
Fresh Air Fund: By the Numbers
- More than 1.8 million children from the five boroughs of New York City have enjoyed free summer experience since the nonprofit program was founded in 1877.
- Every summer more than 4,000 Fresh Air Fund children are hosted by 300 regional areas called “Friendly Towns.”
- Friendly Towns have been established in Canada and 13 states from Maine to Virginia—within a reasonable drive to New York City.
- 65 percent of all children are re-invited to stay with their host families, year after year
- More than 3,000 children attend five Fresh Air Fund camps in Fishkill, New York every summer.
- It costs the Fresh Air Fund $917 to send each child to his or her volunteer host family. Heidecker says bus transportation accounts for the majority of the cost.
- Fresh Air Fund children are recommended through 90 community agencies in New York City.
- More than 75% of the Fresh Air Fund’s donations come from individuals.
Beginnings of The Fresh Air Fund
An independent nonprofit organization, The Fresh Air Fund was founded in 1877 with one simple mission—“to allow children living in low-income communities to get away from hot, noisy city streets and enjoy free summer experiences in the country.”
At that time, “New York City was overflowing with children living in crowded tenements. Many of these youngsters were hit by a tuberculosis epidemic, and ‘fresh air’ was considered a cure for respiratory ailments,” according to the organization’s website.
The first Fresh Air visits were coordinated by the Reverend Willard Parsons, a minister in rural Sherman, Pennsylvania, located in the northeast corner of the state. He asked his congregation members to provide country vacations to the city’s neediest children.
“The Fresh Air Fund’s tradition of caring provides children with a much-needed respite from the inner-city streets. The simplicity of our program is its strength. Looking back to 1877, we can reflect on how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same. The Fund began with a small group of youngsters heading for the country and went on to benefit more than 1.8 million needy children,” as stated on FreshAir.org.
How to become a Fresh Air host family in south central PA
Contact Kathleen Heidecker at email@example.com or Laura Geesaman at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is an application and interview process for potential host families, as well as background and reference checks made by Fresh Air Fund staff based in New York.
Fresh Air Fund children visit the Adams County area every summer during two weeks—one in July and one in August; families may choose which week works best with their schedule.
“There are no restrictions on who can host,” says Heidecker. “There are traditional families, single people without children, older people who are grandparents, etc…. We have a very diverse group that hosts (here in south central Pennsylvania) including an 89-year old grandfather who hosted a 13-year old boy in 2014—they had a great time with the man’s grandson, learning how to camp, grill and fish together.”
Heidecker says there are two standout qualities required of all host families. “They need to have a good sense of humor as well as flexibility.”
Their personal stories
Kathleen Heidecker, Friendly Town Chair for Gettysburg, says she and husband Steven always talked about hosting Fresh Air Fund children when they retired. The military family was stationed in West Point for a number of years, and due to the proximity of New York City, they learned about the program by reading frequent articles in The New York Times—one of the original sponsors of The Fresh Air Fund dating back to the late 1800s. “We retired from the army in 2007, moved to Gettysburg, and have hosted Nianah since 2008.”
Laura Geesaman of Gettysburg says, for her, the roots of the program go back to a seed planted within her childhood. “I grew up outside of New York City, and I remember seeing the advertising about The Fresh Air Fund as a kid.” It wasn’t until she was living in Gettysburg, raising her own family, that she was reminded of the program. “I was reading the newspaper and saw something about The Fresh Air Fund needing local hosts, and I realized how much we could share (with a child) simply through living at Lake Heritage. We’re supposed to share our blessings.” The family hosted their first child, Jailyne, in 2006, and Geesaman became Gettysburg’s Friendly Town Chair after two years. She has served as Fresh Air Fund Representative for the South Central Pennsylvania Committee since 2013. Geesaman coordinates outings at Lake Heritage during South Central Pennsylvania’s two annual host weeks, inviting all host families and Fresh Air children to enjoy swimming, fishing, kayaking, boating and picnicking together.