From left to right, Leanna, Breannel, Joe Sr., Alex, and Linda Caracappa stand on the beach in North Carolina last summer. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Leanna Caracappa has found a life long friend in Breannel, a member of the Fresh Air program from Harlem, NY. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Breannel and Leanna hold tight to their raft at an indoor water park in North Conway. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
Brendan Grenier fishes with Fresh Air program member Christopher during the second summer they spent together in 2005. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
The Fresh Air Fund will be dropping off youngsters from New York City at the Peterborough Community Center on July 9.
The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, nonprofit agency established in 1877, has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.8 million New York City children between the ages of 6 and 17 from low-income communities. Each summer, more than 4,000 children visit volunteer host families in rural communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada.
Every year, the program is looking for additional families to host Fresh Air kids during the summer. Families have the option to participate for one or two weeks depending on their comfort level and the wish of the child.
According to program volunteer Deb Heath-Rogers of Peterborough, 70 percent of the families in the program invite the same child back on an annual basis.
“It’s about giving a kid a vacation experience for a few weeks,” said Rogers recently. “I’d like to have about 25 families this year for the region.”
Host families don’t have to have children at home themselves.
“Empty nesters can host two children, that way the children have a peer,” said Rogers.
The application process includes an at home interview, reference and criminal background check.
Throughout the years, families from the Monadnock region have shared life changing experiences with children from the fresh air program.
Tammy Grenier is a Peterborough resident who hosted a young boy named Christopher for nine years.
“At first he was a little nervous, but luckily once he settled in, it was a good fit,” recalled Grenier recently.
Grenier’s son Brendan quickly became good friends with Christopher.
“They were comfortable from the start,” she said.
According to Grenier, the hardest thing for Christopher to adjust to was the Peterborough mosquitos.
“He loved to feel safe outdoors, something he couldn’t do back home,” she said. “Growing up, Christopher witnessed a shooting while walking home from a Blockbuster video store.”
According to Grenier, Christopher opened up and told her family about this experience, making them appreciate what a different world he came from. When in the New Hampshire outdoors, Christopher enjoyed hiking, swimming, fishing, and boating.
Although Christopher has grown out of the program, the Grenier family still keeps in touch.
“We are planning to go to New York for his high school graduation,” said Grenier.
Both Christopher and Brendan are graduating from high school this spring and will be going to college to study engineering.
“We hope to always have a relationship with Christopher and his family,” said Grenier.
Another local family whose members are veterans of the Fresh Air program are the Caracappas. The family from Sharon has been hosting a young girl, Breannel, for six years.
“Breannel is 13 years old now, every years is a different experience,” said Linda Caracappa.
Linda’s daughter Leanna, 11, has become very close with Breannel over the years.
“Leanna tries to keep in touch with her throughout the year, it’s not always easy though,” said Caracappa.
Last summer, the Caracappa’s picked up Breannel from her home in Harlem and took her on vacation to a rented house in North Carolina. “Breannel loved it,” recalled Caracappa.
Similar to Christopher, Breannel does not like mosquitos or bees that are native to the Monadnock region, but she has learned to cope.
“She didn’t like our two dogs when she first came, now she loves them,” said Caracappa. “Breannel doesn’t have a father; when she comes she really bonds with my husband. Leanna has had to learn to share her with my husband, now that Leanna’s older she understands.”
Two years ago, Breannel opened up to the Caracappas.
“We have learned so much from her and her family,” said Caracappa.
The Caracappas plan to invite Breannel back to Sharon every year until she outgrows the program.
“I always tell first timers, the first year is just getting to know a new person. Anyone can do it, I recommend everyone try it,” said Caracappa.
For further information about the program, contact Heath-Rogers at 924-7970 or 547-0560.
Dylan Fisher can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235, or firstname.lastname@example.org.