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RICHMOND—Parents gathered at the Richmond Elementary School this past Thursday to wait for their summer guests, inner-city kids from New York City. Every year, the Fresh Air Fund of Rhode Island organizes a volunteer summer program, through which local parents adopt a child from New York City into their homes for a few weeks during the summer.
“This is an awesome program,” said Kingston resident and volunteer Susan Axelrod.
The Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit agency, organizes the program for local parents, taking children from the inner-city, and its associated difficulties, into a more relaxed and suburban environment. Many of the parents who gathered this past Thursday, August 9, have volunteered with the Fresh Air Fund before.
“I’ve had Chad, who is now 12, since he was six years old,” said Westerly resident Teresa O’Donnell. “He is a great kid. He loves to go to the beach, so we do all kinds of local things.”
“I have a lot of time in the summer, so it is not a big deal,” she added.
Lynn Finocchiaro, the primary Fresh Air Fund organizer for the drop-off at Richmond Elementary School, has been involved with the program for 12 years and relished the children’s experience and also her own as a volunteer, noting that her own children have been enriched from their New York City friends’ visits.
“[The Fresh Air Fund] is a great way for families to volunteer together,” said Finocchiaro. “It also gives [my] kids a window into a world of the inner city, so hopefully they appreciate what they have here.”
“For the kids visiting, this gives them a chance to do things like swimming and enjoy Rhode Island,” she added. “For us, it is nice to do fun things that I always want to do, but put off until I have a guest, like going to the Newport Mansions or the Umbrella Factory.”
Other volunteer parents are new to the experience, hoping to give their sponsored child worthwhile memories and take them away from New York City, if only for a little while. Most, however, have heard about the Fresh Air Fund, which has been in existence since 1877, and its programs at some point in their lives.
“When I was little, my mom’s cousin’s family always came by [with a Fresh Air child],” said Carla Petrocelli. “I was 10 at the time, and since then I have always thought it was a wonderful program and when I had a family of my own, thought that I would do it, too.”
“My [Fresh Air child] is Faith, and we will just see what she wants to do,” she added. “Maybe we’ll just hang out and go for ice cream at night.”
The Fresh Air Fund provides free, summer trips for over 1.7 million New York City children from low income families annually. Throughout the summer, approximately 4,000 children are hosted by families like those who gathered at Richmond Elementary School throughout the country. The time flies, many parents agree, and because the kids have had so much fun, it is often tough for all parties to let go at the end of the summer.
“That last day is hard,” said O’Donnell. “[Chad] was wrapped around my leg because he didn’t want to go home. I was crying all day.”
For more information about volunteering or the Fresh Air Fund in general, visit http://www.freshair.org.