By Evan Johnson
CASTLETON—On Wednesday, July 5, a white tour bus pulled into a parking lot at Castleton University in front of a small group of waiting families. One at a time, 10 children and teens emerged blinking into the hot Vermont summer sun as groups stepped forward to greet the travelers. Shy hellos, big hugs and even a “Look how you’ve grown!” were exchanged.
The ten youths were the latest arrivals from the Fresh Air Fund’s Friendly Towns program, a New York City-based organization that seeks to get kids from New York City out to rural towns.
Jessica Burlett was a volunteer escort on the bus as the group of students traveled the long bus ride north. She and her family have been welcoming Eugene, a 15-year-old from the Bronx.
“It’s awesome to watch his growth every year year and we look forward to him coming back,” she said. Burlett is the owner of Roots and Wings Academy, a “nature and culture-based private school” in West Haven. Each summer, Eugene joins in the nature camp programs and learns wilderness survival skills, fishing, hiking, gardening and “all that good Vermont stuff,” said Burlett.
Eugene said he’s looking forward to “swimming in pools and lakes.”
Children on first-time visits are boys and girls ages 7 through 12. Students stay with their families for one to two weeks and may be reinvited by the same family and can continue until 18. The children and teens participate in all manner of activities ranging from hikes to cookouts and afternoons at the lake.
“It’s fun for the kids and it’s fun to have an instant friend,” said Gretchen Gould, a host-parent from Shrewsbury.
Ashley Carter and her son were waiting to welcome their guest with a sign that read, “Welcome to Vermont Weixiang!” Carter, who lives in Mendon, said she grew up with Fresh Air Kids coming to her home during the summers. This summer, her family welcomed their first Fresh Air Kid. During their stay, she said, they planned on lots of mountain and water-related activities.
“We wanted to share this kind of experience with other people,” she said. “We take it for granted sometimes.”
Photo by Evan Johnson
Ashley Carter and her children await the arrival of their “Fresh Air Kid” from New York City last week.