Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A Fresh Breath!

I've been lax -again, or maybe I should say, as usual -about blogging and reading blogs too. I had been doing fairly well about the reading part until this past weekend, when I fell off that wagon completely -again.

But as to the posting -well, last week I received a request via e-mail from someone I'd never heard of before nor do I know exactly how she decided to single me out to ask if I'd consider doing a post on this topic, but anyway, her request registered in my mind and I've actually been thinking about it ever since that e-mail arrived.

The request came from a lady at this organization - The Fresh Air Fund -and I've been trying to think of how to do a post about this foundation and thinking too that it's rather odd that she apparently stumbled on my blog somehow and decided it would be a good place to have the author write about the value of the Fresh Air Fund.

Why is that? Well because years back -like 36 years ago this summer -my ex-husband and I signed up to take a child into our home for a two week period -a child from the inner city who, hopefully, would benefit from being able to run and play in the great outdoors of central Pennsylvania.

A child who would benefit from seeing the sights in a tiny village that probably only has a fraction of residents by comparison to the street -or maybe even the apartment complex a child from the city has surrounding them all the time. Grassflat -population maybe 700 or 800 -a choice example of very small-town living; actually very small village living one should say.

At the time we signed on for the Fresh Air program, we only had two children -older daughter, Carrie, then 8 years old and son, Clayton, who was going on two that summer. We had requested a child, a girl, around Carrie's age as we felt logistically, that would be the best for us as well as for whatever child was sent our way.

We received notification that we would be meeting our "child" -a little girl named Monique -who lived in Staten Island, New York and that her age was 8, same as our daughter. A good match-up we figured this would or should be for us, for her, for our daughter too.

And, overall, it was that -a very good match in most areas.

I remember the evening the bus carrying the multitude of city kids arrived in Clearfield, our county seat, and we -ex-husband, both children and I -gathered with others from around our county to meet the children selected to stay with each family for the coming two-week period.

Let me explain a tiny bit here about the demographics of this area and our village, in particular, here. Frank and I had discussed what possible problems we might encounter with taking in this little girl -a bit of jealousy most likely to come through from the older daughter, for openers -but mainly, the biggest concern we had was how well others -our neighbors or other townspeople might react to this child we would be responsible for looking after because you see, this county is predominately white and this village, well at that time it was definitely 100% white and yes, sad to say, but there are those in this area who at that time (and many who still feel this way to this day) who harbor racist attitudes and we worried about what people with those feelings might say or do to this little girl. We both agreed that if they said anything to us directly, we could deal with that, could put those folks in their place, so to speak. But we were hoping things would go smoothly enough that no one did or said anything that would have an impact directly on this child.

And, with the exception of one incident, things did go remarkably well during the time Monique stayed with us.

That one instance though came about on the very first night she was here.

Beginning with our picking up Monique and loading her stuff into the little mini-station wagon we had at that time, she and Carrie seemed to bond fairly quickly and with our son, Clayton, it was evident immediately that he liked and would become a bit of a tail whenever possible to anything the girls wanted to do as he would hang onto Monique at every opportunity!

In our car as we started the drive back to our home, we were turning onto the on-ramp of Interstate 80 when the CB radio we had in the car crackled with people chatting back and forth. This startled Monique initially and she turned to Carrie, asking her "Does your Dad drive a taxi cab?" Carrie, at that point in time, I don't think had a clue as to what a taxi cab was but Frank and I both chuckled as we answered her question about his occupation and also, the radio in the car.

Once home, Carrie immediately insisted that she take Monique over next-door to meet my Mom, Grandma, and show her around Grandma's place too. Not a bad idea because I knew over the time Monique would be here with us, that my Mom's house would frequently be where the girls would be found!

But what happened while they were at Grandma's house showed us first hand, that the race issue was something alive and well in this little village.

The girls were in the house talking to my Mom and Mom noticed a boy, a couple years older than Carrie, riding his bicycle back and forth on the road in front of her home and with each pass of her house, he would look at the house and then, call out in a voice loud enough for Mom and the girls to hear him something that is very politically incorrect -one word -yes, the "N" word, repeating it over and over again!

Now my Mom was the type of person -unlike me -who was very quiet, rarely interjected her opinions outside of her home but I was quite proud of what she did that night with that youngster.

She went to the door and calling him by name, told him in a very, very firm voice that she didn't want to see or hear him saying things like that at all, and telling him also, in no uncertain terms too, that he had best go home right then and there!

Although he did listen and leave -and there were no further repercussions of this issue during Monique's visit with us, I rather doubt that he mentioned any of this to his mother because had he done that, I'm quite sure she would have immediately been on the phone, calling to tell us to stop accusing her son of any kind of wrong-doing whatsoever. (Yes, I was pretty sure she would have done that because she was always the type of parent who was right there to come to her kid's defense and always with the tact that her child never did this or that or any other things wrong, if you know the type of parent I mean there.)

But anyway, I was just happy that Mom had stood her ground to this boy and that over the rest of the time, the other neighbors took Monique in and treated her the same as they treated my children, allowing their kids the freedom to mix and mingle, to play children's games, to swim in the neighbor's above-ground pool freely and ride bicycles, roam the village now and again too and yes, in the process, for Monique to gain lots and lots and LOTS of fresh air! Fresh air is one thing in this tiny place that definitely is in abundance.

As are some wild animals -deer, rabbits, raccoons, birds, bees and bats too -and yes snakes but thankfully, no snakes were seen while she was here!

I've often wondered if that trip to central Pennsylvania was a positive experience for Monique. I hope it was. I know though that it was a great experience for not just my daughter Carrie, but also for Clayton. Even at his young age, she did leave a lasting and positive impression on him!

That lasting impression Clate acquired was evident to us -albeit in a sterotypical way -when that November Frank, the children and I, set out to drive to Illinois for a visit over Thanksgiving with Frank's parents and siblings. Along the way, when we stopped at a rest stop in Indiana, as the children and I were entering the bathroom there -a very busy place I might add -a little girl about the same age/size of Monique was exiting with her mother and Clate, upon seeing this child, started to pull towards her, all the time, calling out to her, "Monique, Monique!"

We had to explain to him that just because he had seen a little black girl about the same size as Monique and with the cornrow braids and such, didn't mean it was actually Monique. I think we can give a two-year old a break in believing that, can't we?

So that's the general gist of how our two weeks as Fresh Air parents went and that it was a positive experience for Frank and I, as well as for our children and for at least a few other youngsters in our little neighborhood who had -many of them -never met a black child before then!

Would I recommend taking in a child for a two-three week stay in one's home through the Fresh Air Fund? Yes indeed I would.

Granted that was the only time we did that but the reason why we never volunteered again with the program was due to a few factors well beyond our control -like divorce, then my work and being unable to take on the added responsibility -financially and otherwise -of another child into the home.

It does provide a lot of opportunities to the host family and especially, I think, to the child or children coming into the home, to see how others live.

Especially those of us who lead lives so totally different from how life in the city, on those streets, can be and is!

So if you have room in your home -and in your hearts -in your family, to welcome a child such as Monique was for our little family -I'd strongly recommend that you look into the Fresh Air Fund program and apply to be a host family.


Sandee said...

This is not something I could do but many do. I don't want strangers in my home. Too many horror stories. I'm glad this was such a fulfilling experience for you and your children.

Have a terrific day. :)

Mary said...

Jeni, It sounds like a terrific idea. I enjoyed reading about your experience with Monique. I don't think they have anything like that here in Ontario.

Nice to visit with you again and thanks for stopping by and commenting about my crazy weather post.

Maggie May said...

I really enjoyed reading this and think it is an excellent idea.
I am sure Monique remembered that holiday for some time.
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Travis Cody said...

We tried several times to participate in the student exchange programs when my sister and I were in school, but we never could swing it.

terri said...

We have never seriously considered hosting another child in our home. We simply never had enough room. I'll bet it would be a wonderful experience though.

Mrs4444 said...

I'd like to do this, but Mr.4444 is funny about that kind of thing--I've been working on him about accepting a foreign exchange student for years, but he says he doesn't want to give up his privacy. Maybe some day...This is a cool idea.

TechnoBabe said...

Sounds like a great program. I enjoyed reading about Monique and how her two week stay with your family benefited her as well as your family. I myself was in foster homes and sometimes for only a few months.
I would have liked to have been staying with a family like yours.

Linda said...

Hmmm, I got the exact same request to do a post and a second request again today.

I know that the Fresh Air Fund is something that people here in Norwich participate in as I've seen newspaper articles about it and even knew a family that hosted a child. If you've got the time, the room, and the energy then I think it's a great idea.

Lifecruiser Travel Blog said...

Could mean so much for the kids, so if one can do it, it's a really, really good thing to do. Hubby were at a so called summer home here in Sweden for 2 summers when he was a kid and loved it!

Paula said...

I've never heard of the Fresh Air Program but it sounds like a wonderful thing for both the kids and the host family. I loved hearing about your experience. Really nice. My parents were foster parents for 10 years or so after us older kids had left home. My youngest brother was a foster child that my parents adopted.