NYC children arrive for week Upstate

Courtney Potts

New experiences and old friends awaited a group of New York City youths Monday when they arrived in Rome for a weeklong vacation.

The seven children who disembarked outside the John F. Kennedy Civic Arena after a six-hour bus ride were participants in the Fresh Air Fund’s Friendly Towns program, which arranges for inner-city children to spend part of their summer with rural and suburban host families.

Sharon Brockway, fund representative for the Utica, N.Y., area, said 23 children are visiting the Mohawk Valley this week, and another group will visit in August.

“They’re coming here to get out of the city … to explore what else the other areas have to offer,” Brockway said. “A lot of them have never been out of the city, never walked barefoot in the grass.”

Some children, like Olivia Welch of Staten Island, stay with the same host year after year. It took Olivia, 12, only a few seconds to find Hope Bradbury among the group of adults waiting to receive their guests. Bradbury of Barneveld has been Olivia’s host for four years.

“When my children all left home, and I became a widow, my house was empty,” Bradbury said. “I needed some fun, so I borrowed Olivia.”

Olivia said she enjoys her yearly visits, which include time for swimming and horseback riding. The pair has grown so close over the years that they now stay in touch beyond the visits. They said they talk to each other about once a month and on special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas. In fact, they’re almost like family.

“Her picture is on my refrigerator with my other grandchildren,” Bradbury said.

The other participants in the July group also were dropped off Monday with families in Oneida and Boonville. Each family can list its preference for age and gender of the child it hosts. And everyone goes through an interview process and a background check before they are approved.

Some host families were participating for the first time this year, and waited patiently to meet the child they had been matched with.

Todd Ferri of Little Falls said his family asked to host a boy about the same age as their son Nicholas, 9. Marquis Holmes, 6, of the Bronx, seemed cautious about his new surroundings, but said he was looking forward to playing games later.

Ferri planned to let the boys camp out in the backyard Monday night, and was also planning to take them to Enchanted Forest Water Safari later in the week.

Ferri said his decision to host a child this summer was based on his own experiences as a child when his parents hosted someone.

“We just played as young kids and had fun,” he said. “And I always remembered that.”


About the program

- The Fresh Air Fund was founded in 1877.

- Each summer, there are about 5,000 children in the fund’s Friendly Towns program. 23 are visiting the Mohawk Valley this week.

- Children are placed with host families in rural and suburban areas for one to two weeks at a time.

- The fund pays for transportation and medical expenses for participating children, but all other costs are covered by the host families.