Growing up in Cleveland, both Susan Miller and her husband Jim had never heard of The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program. It wasn’t until they moved to Quechee, and spoke to some of their neighbors that they were introduced to the program. It was initially Jim’s idea to become a host. It had been a lifetime goal of his to help inner-city children. Susan and Jim, along with their two daughters Caroline and Christine, first signed up to host in 2010 for two weeks and since then, they have welcomed Erykah, of the Bronx, back every summer.
The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.8 million New York City children from low-income neighborhoods since 1877. Each summer, close to 4,000 inner-city children visit suburban, rural, and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada through The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program.
At first, Susan wasn’t sure what to expect going into her hosting experience. However, after speaking with local volunteers about the program and meeting her Fresh Air child, Erykah, Susan knew she had made the right decision. Susan recalls the first time they picked Erykah up, “We were on our way home. I remember looking at her in the backseat and seeing how shy and quiet she was. From that day on, it was amazing seeing how quickly she opened up and felt at home.” Susan added that Erykah calls Susan her “Vermont mom.”
For the past five years, Erykah has visited the Millers every summer, taking part in outdoor activities and enjoying local tourist areas that Susan says the family takes for granted them selves. About two years ago, the Millers decided that only seeing Erykah in the summer was too much time apart and they invited her to visit during winter break. This past February, Erykah had her second winter visit. She stayed for a full week and took part in the winter activities that Vermont has to offer. Erykah went sledding, ice skating, and she even learned how to ski. “I was so surprised when Erykah told me that she would like to ski, but it made me so happy to see her try something new that she was never exposed to,” said Susan, “The smile on her face as she was going down the mountains was amazing.” During this recent visit, Erykah also joined the family at Christine’s hockey games. Susan added, “Winters are typically more low-key than summers, but it’s so nice just hanging out and having Erykah ‘home.’”
“The biggest surprise was how great of an impact it has had on our family,” said Susan when asked about how her experience with The Fresh Air Fund has affected her life. “I went into this thinking that I am going to be doing something good for someone else, but it has changed our lives for the better. If you’re willing to take a chance and try something new, it can be the experience of a lifetime. I would encourage anyone to host because of the positive impact it has on life, for both the hosts and the children.” Susan and her family have invited Erykah back this summer and look forward to having her for the sixth year in a row.
The Fresh Air Fund is always seeking host families to enable as many New York City children as possible to benefit from a summer experience outside of the city. To learn more about how to become a host family in the Central Vermont area, please call Amy Kamb at 802-558-5161 or visit The Fresh Air Fund online at freshair.org.