Program allows city kids to experience country

July 19, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

FAYETTEVILLE, Pa. -- Alison Smith lounged on the beach Sunday and watched her three sons play in the water with her "fourth child."

Leonardo "Danny" Coyotl, 14, has been Smith's "fourth child" ever since he first arrived in her family's Fayetteville house at age 9. He's joined the Smiths on vacations and spends Christmas with them sometimes.

And Danny is reachable by telephone when at his regular home in Queens, N.Y.

"He's just part of our family," Smith said.

The Smiths met Danny through The Fresh Air Fund, an agency that pairs New York City children from disadvantaged communities with host families living in more rural settings. A group of children arrived July 11 in Chambersburg, Pa., for a few weeks.

Smith said she'd recommend the program to anyone.

"It's just a matter of having an extra bed and the time," she said.

Fewer than 10 children arrived this year, something Smith attributes to area residents not knowing about the program. Applicants are interviewed to match them up with children.


Fresh Air children, who are ages 6 to 18, don't need expensive activities to be entertained, Smith said. They're often happiest running barefoot on grass, she said.

The Smiths met the bus of Fresh Air children at Chambersburg Mall in 2008. The air conditioning whirred in the mini van as Alison Smith drove until Danny asked that the windows be opened.

"He said, 'I know we're almost at your house because I remember what trees smell like,'" Smith recalled.

Smith's best friend in fifth-grade hosted two Fresh Air girls, but her own mother didn't want to participate. She thought it'd be a good idea for her and her husband, Daniel, and their three children -- Oliver, 14; Gus, 7; and Geno, 5.

She says Danny is a patient boy who appreciates "things we take for granted" and teaches the family a lot.

"He says when he grows up he wants to live in Chambersburg," Smith said.

Danny is joining the Smiths at Long Beach Island in New Jersey for two weeks. There, they'll throw him a birthday party three months belated.

Danny and Oliver enjoy camping and fishing together. A summertime family rule prohibits them from watching television and playing video games unless it's dark outside or raining.

"Danny's just taught us to slow down," Smith said.

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