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THE FRESH AIR FUND: Visiting the Barnyard Creatures Can Outshine TV


June 30, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

Of all the farm animals Damaris Figueroa was expecting to meet on her summer vacation – the horses, the cows, the cats, the pigs and the goats – she was already pretty sure that she would like the cats the best. "They're cute and you can pet them," said Damaris, 7, as she sat Friday morning on the floor of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan with her 10-year-old sister, Vanessa. They were waiting for the bus to Canton, N.Y., and the start of their first vacation arranged through the Fresh Air Fund.

Their father, Eric Figueroa, stood at a railing watching his two girls, having packed their favorite outfits and toys hours earlier, before the group left their Brooklyn home for the terminal. He admitted to being a bit nervous, but was also confident that all would work out for the best.

"They're going to have fun and get out of the city," said Mr. Figueroa, who learned about the Fresh Air Fund's summer program from a church group and thought it would be an excellent way for his children to see more of the country and to meet new people. The family usually spends vacations with relatives in Puerto Rico, he said.

"I know they're really excited," he said, adding that "they've been counting the days" to the start of the trip.

The girls are staying with different families. Vanessa is spending her two weeks with the Kennedy family at their Cranberry Lake, N.Y., home. Damaris is living with the Linn-Newman family in Canton, where, in addition to playing with farm animals, she hopes to do a lot of swimming. She is really good at underwater swimming, she said.

Sitting atop her suitcase, Naquel Stevens toyed with the oversized badge that announced her bus destination: Potsdam, N.Y. Naquel, who is "7 1/2 and turning 8" in early July, is already a Fresh Air Fund vacation veteran. She said she was looking forward to her third summer with the Martins family. "I love the country, it's real quiet," Naquel said. "I get to go to the beach, and I get to swim in nice pools. I have fun."

About 365 children boarded buses on Friday in the Port Authority's north wing, bound for one of the more than 300 communities that serve as the fund's Friendly Towns. There are Friendly Towns from Virginia to Maine, as well as in Canada, where the host families will meet the buses and welcome the children. The bus runs that began on Friday will continue through August, transporting almost 6,000 children ages 6 to 18, said Jenny Morgenthau, executive director of the Fresh Air Fund.

Dozens of Fresh Air Fund volunteers and workers are accompanying the children on the bus rides. Some will also work at a 24-hour hot line provided by the fund to help host families with any emergency during the children's stays – whether that emergency is homesickness or a serious accident. "Things happen all the time with children," Ms. Morgenthau said. "We'll always have someone ready to give a family advice."

Now in its 125th year, the nonprofit Fresh Air Fund provides two-week summer vacations for children from low-income New York City families by matching the children with host families in the suburbs or the country, or by taking children to its own summer camps. The fund also runs programs throughout the year to help prepare children for college and careers. But the yearly vacations are the fund's best-loved program.

Richard Drumgo, 9, of Brooklyn, was looking forward to his second year with the Miller family of Colton, N.Y., and another swim in a lake so deep he could not touch the bottom, even when he tried. "It's just too deep," he said.

William Newkirk, 13, of the Bronx, had no plans to swim in a lake – he knew better after watching all those scary "Halloween" movies, he said. But the Morgan family of Laconia, N.H., with whom he is vacationing for a second year, will take him elsewhere to swim. They will also take him to fairs and to try his hand at rock climbing. "New Hampshire's fun," he said. "There's always something to do."

Ka'erica Rembert, 11, of Brooklyn, said her fifth stay with the Kauffmans of Bedford, Pa., an Amish family, meant two weeks without television. The loss "was nerve-racking at first," Ka'erica said, "but you get used to it." She said she planned to spend her vacation outdoors, visiting with the horses and other animals on the family's farm.

Dwayne Daniels, 12, of Queens, toyed with a Little League baseball cap as he waited for the start of his seventh year with the Morrill family of Potsdam, N.Y., and a backyard so big that he "can run around forever, just free."

Each visit promises a new adventure, Dwayne said, from camping on the banks of the St. Lawrence River – a place so far upstate in New York that he could see clear to Canada – to toasting his favorite marshmallow treat, s'mores, over a fire. The Morrills' own children are grown, but they have friends and neighbors closer to his age.

Dwayne wondered what new experiences awaited him this year.

But he knew for certain how his vacation would end: the same way it has for each of the last six years, with Dwayne treating the Morrill family and friends to a rap-and-dance talent show he puts together just for them.

"It's good, it's fun," he said, his arms and hands beginning to gesture in rhythm to a rap rhyme only he could hear. Would he share a few lines?

Dwayne smiled and paused in his private routine, resting his hands on lanky legs that hinted at a future height. "Nah," he said with a dimpled smile. "I'm too shy."

To become a host family or register a child for the Fresh Air Fund, call (800) 367-0003. Tax Deductible contributions may be sent to 633 Third Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017. For more information on the Web, visit

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