Yorkers host children from cities so they can play outside


Many children who don't live all that far from York County aren't able to play outside in the urban environments where they live.

But the Fresh Air Fund, a nonprofit group that since 1885 has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.8 million New York City children from low-income communities, on Thursday brought a busload of children — eager to enjoy the outdoors and a more laid-back community setting — to York.

Each summer, close to 4,000 children visit volunteer host families in suburban and small town communities in 13 different states and Canada through the Fresh Air Fund's Volunteer Host Family Program.

Many local families this summer have opened their homes for two weeks for a visitor between the ages of 6 and 18, making York a Fresh Air Fund "Friendly Town."

New friends: Beth Jones, a York City resident and coordinator for host families in the area, has been enjoying the program since her childhood, when her parents volunteered as hosts.

"We used to have the same girl come down to visit us for years," Jones said.

Host families often invite their visitors to return after the first stay, leading to consistency for the program's visitors and long-lasting friendships, she said.

"I used to love it. My brother and I were always at each other throats when we were younger, so it was nice to have someone new come in," Jones joked.

Jones, who now has an 8-year-old of her own, wanted to share that experience with her daughter. For the past three years, she has hosted the same child, who lives in Brooklyn and will be turning 10.

"It's nice for my daughter to have someone else to play with," Jones said. "We do a lot of local stuff, there's not a lot of opportunity to do outside stuff where she's from. She really likes to go to pools, and we're fortunate that we have family members that have pools so we love to go swimming."

The visit: The trip always lines up with the Fourth of July, a great time for picnics and other outdoor activities, Jones said.

She said she values her time as volunteer.

"A lot of these kids unfortunately don't have picture-perfect backgrounds," she said. "There are so many moments when I'm just glad to be able to give her the opportunity to enjoy a nurturing environment."

Each experience is unique, as the volunteers are asked to be ambassadors to the area in a way that would interest their Fresh Air Visitors.

Volunteering: Families of all different backgrounds and types are encouraged to volunteer.

Potential hosts are asked to fill out a short online application and will then be asked for a phone and in-home interview. References will also be requested, and all those in the home over 18 will be asked to submit to background checks.

For more information on volunteering, visit www.freshair.org or call Jones at (717) 578-0404.

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com.