February 27, 2011

Fresh Air Fund

By Catherine Sager
East Greenbush, NY

Since 1877, The Fresh Air Fund has been affording inner-city children the joy of a summer vacation with volunteer host families and at Fund camps, creating unforgettable memories and extraordinary possibilities. Fresh Air kids get away for a few weeks every summer to live with a host family. More than 65% of all children are re-invited to stay with their host families, year after year.

A paperwork glitch made the Hansen's first fresh air child unavailable the following year and although they were very disappointed, another boy was hoping for a host family and was matched with the Hansens. The very first meeting between Noah Hansen and Troyvon Young, seemed to make the upsetting snafu easier to handle. "The boys just hit it off immediately," says Tenniel Hansen, Noah's mother. "They have so much in common."

Surprising to some considering the disparate circumstances of their respective childhoods seem worlds apart. Troyvon lives in Brooklyn with his mother, three sisters and four brothers, including his twin, Troy and goes to a private school.  Noah lives in East Greenbush with his parents and two younger sisters at is a freshman at Columba High School.  He has his own room and an extended family, all of whom live nearby.

For Troyvon, a summer with the Hansens has turned into a family friendship and a bond that grows stronger every year.  Troyvon, spent his first summer with Tenniel, Dan, Noah and Aryonna in 2004.  Tenniel was expecting at the time and while Troyvon was with the family,  he was able to see the  sonogram images of Tenniel's baby.  During his next visit, he was with the family when Maddie was born and held her soon after.

Tenniel has been a part of the Fresh Air Fund for 10 years.  Now serving as the Rensselaer County  Chairperson, she encourages families to open their homes to a child. In every Friendly Town, there is a volunteer committee and Chairperson responsible for the program. The committee publicizes the program, screens applications, checks references, interviews families in their homes and approves new hosts. The Fresh Air Fund provides support to Fund Representatives, chair people and host families 24 hours a day, when Fresh Air children are visiting their towns. Through The Fund’s Friendly Town program, close to 5,000 children visit volunteer host families each summer in rural and suburban communities.

Tenniel says "My favorite quote is 'There is no such thing as a typical host family. If you have room in your home - and your heart - to host a child, you could be one too.'"

"The most common misconception," she says, "is that you need to have a lot of money to host a child. In reality, just giving a child the chance to see grass or a lake is most often the memories that last.
Troyvon's first year here, he looked out the back door and asked if he could use that playground anytime he wanted.  To him it was a private playground and not just a swing set in the back yard. It sheds a new light on the things our kids may take for granted."

For  Tenniel it was so interesting the things that seemed exciting, like the car wash - most people in the city don't have cars so the idea of a carwash was completely foreign. The Drive-ins was another big adventure as was  Super Walmart - opposed to the local grocers - all experiences that are brand new to a Fresh Air kid. Swimming is an activity that never gets old.  Tenniel's parents and grandparents live right around the corner and the pool in the backyard is a never-ending source of entertainment.  Other free activities include trips to the Town Park or the baseball field. "Everyone is used to seeing Troyvon at the games and everybody know him now."  With access to the internet, Troyvon can be in contact with his upstate friends at anytime. People who have gotten used to Troyvon's visits in the summer, as well as the visits where his twin brother comes off season.  Troy has accompanied Troyvon on four visits, over February breaks and for the past two Thanksgivings, where they celebrate with the entire Hansen-Harting family." Off season trips are not funded by the Fresh Air Fund, but host families can fund the travel if they wish to.

"It's so funny to hear that 'the boys are back' from people who have come to know them. Not only are they members of our family but have become members of the community."

Although the Fresh Air Fund covers the cost of transportation and insurance, for summer visits, host families are expected to provide meals and any extra costs for outings.  The good news is that many businesses will cover the cost of a Fresh Air Fund child.

"Fun Plex was fantastic. Extremely generous," Tenniel said.  The first time we went there the management allowed Troyvon to do every single activity in their complex. She says places like Howe Caverns, the Great Escape and even the Dutch Apple have provided free admission for Fresh Air kids as well. Vendors change but businesses, particularly local businesses are generally very accommodating.

In her role as the Rensselaer Chair person, it is Tenniel's responsibility to explain the program, recruit new host families and conduct preliminary interviews. She is basically the voice for the entire county to the Fresh Air Fund program. Families are asked about situations that may be tricky. For example some families don't have televisions in their homes, or eat a strictly vegetarian diet or they have a dog. "These points may seem perfectly normal to host families, but strange to a family enrolling a child into the program.  These are the pieces of information used to create good matches with children and their host families to ensure a positive experience for everyone involved."

For Tenniel and Dan the best part of the Fresh Air Fund is the impact it has had on Noah and their entire family. I love the fact that he's learned that, although we don't have a lot, we have enough...enough to share."

"I think that our involvement has made Noah more open-minded," Tenniel said.  "I feel that a program like this that we've had in our home for so long and the longevity of his relationship with Troyvon, as well as his brother Troy, have become second-nature to him.  He doesn't understand why everyone doesn't want to do it.  It's been such a great experience watching the two of them grow up together.

"For me personally," she says, "it's given me a newfound respect for people who become foster parents or adoptive, because some people can't understand loving a child who is not your own. Having been a part of the Fresh Air Fund, I get that now.  I would do for Troyvon anything I would do for any one of my children. He's part of us."

Troyvon says that after a couple of visits he very much felt like a part of the family. "Especially when Maddie was born, and I got to hold her, it was very emotional. I think I cried a little bit."

So I had to ask Noah how it's changed him.  Since he's had Troyvon and Troy in his life for so long he doesn't really know any thing else. So I asked "What's in it for you?"

"I have brothers," he said.

To learn more, visit the Fresh Air fund at http://www.freshair.org/host-a-child.aspx or contact Tenniel Hansen 518-451-9611 or email tenniel.hansen@gmail.com

Catherine Sager is a freelance writer and photographer living in Schodack. Contact Catherine at catherine.sager@yahoo.com.

1 comment:

  1. Please give me a call me to inquire about the fresh air fund. You can change a life forever....YOURS!
    Tenniel 451-9611


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