By Stephanie Choate
When Brooklyn native Jovon Brathwaite stepped off the bus in Vermont for the first time, he caught Williston in full-throttle town pride mode.
“He arrived the night of the ice cream social, and you can imagine how overwhelming that was,” said Williston resident Sarah Dunphy, who first welcomed Brathwaite through the Fresh Air Fund six years ago. “The Williston Fourth of July just takes on a life of its own. He met half the town in the first 12 hours he was here.”
Brathwaite, 14, arrives July 1 for his sixth summer in Williston. The Dunphy family is one of seven to 10 Williston families who share a little piece of Vermont with New York City kids each summer through the Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program.
“It benefits everyone,” said Mary Sherman, volunteer leader for the Champlain Valley. “The children from New York certainly benefit experiencing life in the country. They get a chance to do different things—(seeing) sunsets and stars and enjoying riding a bike and playing baseball and softball…. For our children in our communities, I think it’s great—the sharing of diversity, the sharing of culture.”
Queens resident Jennifer Gomez, 13, is set to arrive in Williston in August to spend 10 days with Pamela and Peter Niarchos.
“What I mostly like is just getting away from the city and going up to the countryside and relaxing,” she said. “We do all kind of fun things.”
Gomez said she and the Niarchos family have gone camping, bike riding, hiking and swimming, as well as taken a trip to Maine.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for the kids from the city to just go up there,” she said, referring to the country. “Most of us don’t have families who go up and take trips. It’s a good opportunity for us kids to go see new places.”
Each summer, more than 4,000 children visit host families in rural or suburban communities in 13 states and Canada through Fresh Air Fund.
The organization matches first-time host families with New York City children ranging from ages 6-12. The Fresh Air Fund handles the children’s travel and arranges liability and medical insurance. Hosts and individuals can then decide if they want to continue the arrangement the following summer.
“We love having her come up,” Pamela Niarchos said of Gomez. “It’s something we all look forward to each summer… she fits in very easily with our family.”
Dunphy, who had a fresh air child visit her family every summer while growing up in New York, said Brathwaite has become a fixture in town, and he always wants to visit the same people every summer.
“All the boys in town going into eighth grade, most of them know him, they all expect him to be here for part of July,” she said. “He’s just an easy kid to have around.”
Brathwaite and Eli Dunphy, who are the same age, keep in touch during the year as well.
“He’s really nice,” Eli Dunphy said. “Me and him love to play basketball and go on our boat and go swimming… just hanging out with him and going swimming in the lake is always fun.”
The pair is set to participate in a lacrosse camp this summer. Eli Dunphy said he’s looking forward to Brathwaite’s arrival, as are his friends.
“It’s a really good experience and it gives him something to do during the summer,” Eli Dunphy said.
Sarah Dunphy said showing Brathwaite the best Vermont has to offer—from boat trips on Lake Champlain to the tastiest creemees—makes the family appreciate its home state.
“When he’s here it forces us to slow down,” she said. “He allows us to redirect the focus toward things that we typically take for granted. So, even having burgers on the grill, that’s something that he doesn’t do very often living in the city.”
Dunphy and Niarchos encouraged their fellow residents to give the program a try.
“There are plenty of kids that are waiting for matches and waiting for a host family and the Fresh Air Fund really does make it pretty easy to get involved,” Dunphy said.
Sherman said the organization is still looking for host families for August.
“It’s an opportunity to share a little bit of Vermont with New York City and also for your children to learn a little bit about city life,” she said. “It’s just a rewarding experience.”
For more information, contact Sherman at 868-2771 or firstname.lastname@example.org.