Kasim Imam of New York City plays badminton at the home of the Rubio family in West Manchester Township. Imam has spent the last four summers with the
Kasim Imam of New York City plays badminton at the home of the Rubio family in West Manchester Township. Imam has spent the last four summers with the Rubios as part of the Fresh Air Family Program. (Steven Goeller photo)

As he exited the bus, Kasim Imam's eyes connected with the Rubio family.

They excitedly exchanged hugs and handshakes, happy to spend their fourth time together as participants in the Fresh Air Family Fund's Volunteer Host Family Program, based in New York.

Kasim and six other youths from New York City arrived last week at the York Galleria mall in Springettsbury Township to meet their host families in York, Brogue and Stewartstown, as well as in Annapolis and Jarrettsville in Maryland.

The nonprofit Fresh Air Family program provides free summer experiences for youths from low-income communities to visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small towns in 13 states from Virginia to Maine and in Canada.

Altogether, 32 youths between ages 6 and 18 will spend one to two weeks with local host families, said Tiffany Lakatosh, York County chairwoman and volunteer with the Fresh Air program.

"For the youths, it's a wonderful vacation away from the hustle and bustle of the city" said Lakatosh, of Windsor Township. "I hope the families experience different cultures and learn about different life experiences from (the youths) they host."

Fourth visit: Kasim, 11, of the Bronx, has spent three summers with the Rubios, who live in West Manchester Township.

He will spend a week with the family, said Michelle Rubio, 40. The family includes her husband, Redentor Rubio, 45, and two sons, Austin, 12, and Aiden, 1.

"Kasim is like part of the family," Michelle Rubio said. "And Austin gets a friend from a different place for a lifetime."

Kasim and Austin said they plan to play video games, see movies, go to an amusement park and camp in the backyard.

"As long as I am here, I'm going to have some fun," Kasim said. "At least I'm away from the city."

Austin said he's glad he met Kasim.

"It's exciting to see him every year," Austin said. "I get to see how he's changed in his personality and looks, see how much he grew. I like the Fresh Air program. We get to meet different people from different states."

Other hosts: Anne Walker of Jarrettsville said this is her fourth year hosting a youth through Fresh Air. This year, her family is hosting Carmina Meneses, 12, from New York City.

"It's really fun coming here," Carmina said. "This is my fourth or fifth time. I got to swim, play soccer and go hiking."

Beth Jones, Hellam Township, said her family is participating in the program because she remembers how her parents hosted a girl from New York beginning when she was 5 and continuing until after she had become a teen.

"I only had a brother, so it was nice to see her, " Jones recalled. "My daughter is the only child and she wants a friend. And this is a good way for her to understand that not everybody looks like her, acts like her, talks like her."

-- Eyana Adah McMillan can also be reached at emcmillan@yorkdispatch.com.