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City kids enjoying a breath of fresh air in the country

July 11, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

SCOTLAND, Pa. - There is a cultural as well a geographical divide between the concrete and steel canyons of New York City and the rolling hills of the Cumberland Valley, but one that the children of that city and their host families for the Fresh Air Fund seem to have bridged.

"This has been quite an adventure," said Jamere Stewart, an 11-year-old from Brooklyn, who is staying with Rodney and Wanda Hess of Shady Grove, Pa. He recounted how he had recently gone on an inner tube ride down a creek.

Jamere also rode a horse for the first time, although he brushed up against an electric fence during the ride.

"The person who was controlling it lost control of it and it got away and I was scared," 12-year-old Elijah Cotten of Brooklyn said of his first experience on a horse. The 12-year-old, who also is staying with the Hesses, managed to pull back on the reins and bring the animal to a halt without being thrown.

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Since 1877, the Fresh Air Fund has been bringing kids from the Big Apple to rural areas such as Franklin County, according to Jane Kuhns of Chambersburg, who has been with the program for 31 years. For 126 years, the program has brought about 1.7 million children to the country for stays of two weeks or more with host families or in camps run by the organization.

"Angel has already told us she's coming back next year," Dave Jamison, a Greene Township, Pa., supervisor, said of 9-year-old Angel Vazquez, the girl he and his wife, Joyce, are hosting. "She and our two granddaughters have hit it off real well."

One adjustment the Jamisons had to make was dietary. Angel is a vegetarian, although she did venture a bite of fried chicken at a picnic Thursday evening in Scotland.

"Joyce got some vegetarian dishes off the Internet," Jamison said.

"I like it here, except for all the bugs," said Angel, who never has spent time in the country. "I guess you have to be born in the country to get used to it."

Thursday's outing to Scotland featured all the classics of a country picnic - the fried chicken and potato salad, the water balloon toss and the ubiquitous guess-the-weight-of-the-watermelon contest.

The experiences for the children from the city in the week since they arrived would be considered commonplace for those who grow up here.

"At Poppa's, I was riding on a tractor," said Davon Williams, 9, of Manhattan, referring to a relative of his host family, Michael and Lydia Hostetler of Shippensburg, Pa. This is his second summer with the family.

"Cows, horses, chickens, more chickens, some more cows," Elijah said of life on the farm. He has milked a cow, both by hand and with a milking machine.

One aspect of country life they find hard to adjust to is air that is not always so fresh.

"Manure," Elijah said, waving a hand in front of his nose.

Still, he said the Hesses "are the nicest people I've ever met. They're so sweet."

"That's probably not the entire truth, but it's flattering," Wanda Hess said later. "We get along fairly well, but we do need a time out now and then."

Most of the host families and guests likely would agree that they all get something from being part of the Fresh Air Fund.

"They experience new things and I experience new things," Angel said.

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