Six young people from New York City are spending the week in the Gettysburg area, hosted by local families who come to regard them as their other kids.
Three of the youngsters who got off the bus on Monday were all returning for their third or fourth visits with their host families.
“I guess I think of them as a second family,” Andrea Aguilar of the Bronx said as Charley and Bill Pero welcomed her for her third visit. Charley, 16, said she in turn regards Andrea as her sister and Bill said when Andrea comes, “we’re adding our other kid.”
“They’re a lot of fun, and have a lot of energy,” Aguilar said of the Peros. “I can’t always keep up with them,” the 12-year-old New Yorker said, though the looks on the Peros’ faces suggested that’s hardly the case.
Aguilar and her hosts said during last year’s visit, in addition to a variety of recreational activities, she helped take care of their dog, washed the family truck and pitched in with other chores at the Pero home.
Maya Morrison from Brooklyn is spending the week with Cassondra Selby and her family, who live at Lake Heritage just outside Gettysburg. Selby said Maya’s visit is “the highlight of the summer” for the three Selby children.
During the week, Morrison and the Selbys plan on lots of lake swimming, playing games and taking in Gettysburg’s fireworks displays and other events on the Fourth of July.
Jeffrey Marin, 13, from the Bronx is spending his fourth year with Laura and Steven Wukovitz. Marin too said he “loves coming here” and finds the environment a welcome change from his urban environment.
Marin hopes to repeat a favorite event enjoyed with the Wukovitz’s, camping at Hershey Park.
The pre-teens and teenagers are sponsored by The Fresh Air Fund, which defines its mission as “Transforming lives, one summer at a time.” Its website (www.freshair.org) indicates “since its founding in 1877, The Fresh Air Fund has provided life-changing summer experiences” for more 1.8 million children from New York City’s under-served communities.
Fresh Air traces its roots to Sherman, Pa., where 142 years ago Rev. Willard Parsons, “a minister of a small, rural parish, asked members of his congregation to provide country vacations to some of New York City’s neediest children, primarily from the Lower East Side.”
As word spread of the program’s positive impact, in the 1960s New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger became a champion for Fresh Air and chaired its board for two decades.
In addition to the summer experiences in rural areas, Fresh Air provides year-round academic enrichment and leadership training for young people. Many who attend college point to their Fresh Air experiences as key to their being admitted and succeeding in their studies.
Locally, two annual week-long visits are coordinated by a small group committed to offer young New Yorkers an opportunity to learn about life in a semi-rural area.
Co-coordinator Laura Geesaman of Gettysburg has been a volunteer with the Fresh Air project for 14 years.
Having personally hosted numerous guests over the years, Geesaman said she has “seen how much they appreciate leaving behind the stress of New York” for a few days.
“Giving children an opportunity to have an experience they otherwise wouldn’t have is rewarding,” Geeseman said.