Last Wednesday, a ages 6 to 12 made the trip from New York City to the East End for a week's vacation with a local host family, arranged by nonprofit Fresh Air Fund, which has provided low-income children with free summer experiences since 1877.
Southampton residents Matthew and Michelle Malone, along with their sons, Tommy, 11, James, 9, and Billy, 7, have been a host family to Fresh Air Fund child D.J., 12, for the past four years, after seeing an advertisement for the program in The New York Times. Once their kids were old enough, they signed up to become a host family, and welcomed D.J., who was 8 at the time, into their home.
“We wanted our kids to realize that not everyone is as fortunate as we are to be able to go to the beach every day, or play soccer games in the backyard,” Michelle Malone said.
For D.J., the simple things about the East End he enjoys most. “I like to swim, to crab, to fish. I like to skim board and play sports like basketball and baseball and soccer,” D.J. said. The boys also like to cook together and go for bike rides.
In the city, if D.J. wants to ride his bike, his parents must carry it down a third-story walk-up. He also cannot play outside unsupervised due to dangers in his neighborhood. While on the East End, he can safely enjoy playing soccer or other games in the backyard or taking a bike ride through the farm fields with the Malone boys.
The Malones plan to take D.J. to the beach, go swimming in the neighbor’s pool, cook pesto for dinner using basil fresh from their garden, and dig for clams; D.J. said he thinks he might even give a clam a taste for the first time.
"Our family gets as much out of the experience as D.J. gets coming here," Malone said, encouraging other families to considering hosting a child.
"There is so much in our area to offer," she said. "What we do every day is so fantastic and you don’t have to go above and beyond that. Things like just going to the beach, or the pool, or having an outdoor barbecue mean so much to these kids."
The Fresh Air Fund reported that 33 families in Southampton Town signed up to host in 2011, compared to just 17 last year.
Malone started as a host three years ago, and now serves as the Southampton chair for the Fresh Air Fund. Her volunteer job is to recruit and screen families interested in hosting. “As a host family, you’re being interviewed to make sure you're providing a safe place for a child,” she said.
There is no income threshold to meet or fee to be a host, Malone added. "The only cost is the extra meals that I’m providing at dinner time," she said. "It is of no cost to me."
For more information about the Fresh Air Fund, visit http://www.freshair.org.