Giv­ing New York City kids a taste of Ni­a­gara

The Niagara Falls Review - - NEWS - LAURA BAR­TON lbar­ton@post­media.com Twit­ter: @LBar­tonTri­bune

Nancy Sal­vage is a big ad­vo­cate of the Fresh Air Fund pro­gram. She’s seen the ben­e­fits it can have first­hand.

Sal­vage is the chair for the Wel­land, Port Col­borne and Fort Erie branch of the non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, which started 140 years ago in Penn­syl­va­nia af­ter a tu­ber­cu­lo­sis out­break in New York City. She said a group of peo­ple from Penn­syl­va­nia started it as a way to help kids get out of the out­break area and into some “fresh air” by hav­ing them stay with host fam­i­lies.

“We bring them to fam­i­lies just to be one of the fam­ily,” Sal­vage said.

Al­though the tu­ber­cu­lo­sis out­break has long passed, the pro­gram con­tin­ues, bring­ing low-in­come kids from New York City to stay with host fam­i­lies.

Host fam­i­lies are avail­able in many ar­eas across the United States and in Canada.

Last year, she said, 110 chil­dren came from New York City to spend a week to a month over the sum­mer with a Ni­a­gara host fam­ily, 15 of which stayed in Port Col­borne.

Sal­vage was set up at the Port Col­borne li­brary on Satur­day with pam­phlets, dis­play boards and her wealth of knowl­edge about the pro­gram to share with any­one who might be in­ter­ested.

She and her hus­band have had sev­eral chil­dren come stay with them through the Fresh Air Fund, and al­though they’ve aged out since it’s only for kids seven to 18, she keeps in touch with them even today.

Hav­ing been a part of the pro­gram her­self for sev­eral years, she can con­fi­dently say it’s not about cre­at­ing a fi­nan­cial bur­den on the host fam­ily.

The Fresh Air Fund takes care of travel costs, and hav­ing the kids come to stay isn’t about need­ing to take them to all the tourist at­trac­tions or go­ing on lav­ish ex­cur­sions. It’s about giv­ing them a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence than they might be used to.

She said there have been kids that have come from the big city life to stay with farm­ing fam­i­lies, for in­stance. The child has the op­por­tu­nity to help out on the farm, see the an­i­mals and even see the stars with­out all of the city’s light pol­lu­tion.

Some of the New York City kids who have been through the pro­gram speak at con­fer­ences, where she said they talk about the sim­plic­ity of just be­ing able to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing be­yond what they’re used to at home.

“It’s great for the fam­i­lies, too,” she said. “It’s great for our kids to meet some­one from a dif­fer­ent back­ground.”

Be­ing a part of the pro­gram is no small feat on ei­ther side, though. Sav­age said it’s a “big deal” for the par­ents or guardians of these chil­dren to let their kids travel to an­other state or an­other coun­try to spend some time over the sum­mer. For the host fam­i­lies, it’s about de­cid­ing if this is re­ally right for you.

“This isn’t some­thing we want to push on peo­ple,” she said. “It’s too im­por­tant a com­mit­ment.”

Sal­vage said this is the time of year to sign up for the pro­gram though be­cause there is a lot of work that goes into set­ting up a child with a fam­ily. In­ter­views, back­ground checks and mak­ing sure to have a good match be­tween the child and fam­ily are just some of the steps that need to be taken.

To find out more in­for­ma­tion and get in­volved with the pro­gram, Sal­vage rec­om­mends vis­it­ing fre­shair­fund.org or get­ting in touch with her by phone at 905835-0442 or 905-941-0533 or by email at nancy.sal­vage@sym­pa­tico.ca.

LAURA BAR­TON/WEL­LAND TRI­BUNE/POST­MEDIA NET­WORK

Nancy Sal­vage, chair of the Wel­land, Port Col­borne and Fort Erie Fresh Air Fund cam­paign, is a big ad­vo­cate for the pro­gram which brings kids from New York City to Ni­a­gara to ex­pe­ri­ence a sum­mer away from home.

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