"She's such a pleasure to have around," remarks Ruth Preddy, of Fredericksburg, Va., when discussing her experiences hosting a Fresh Air Fund child since 2011. The Preddy's yearly visitor, 12-year-old Yareli, returned to Fredericksburg for her third straight summer this August. Ruth's daughters, Melanie, 7, and Maria, 16, eagerly awaited Yareli's arrival. Ruth notes, "They all feel like they're sisters."
The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income neighborhoods since 1877. Each summer, over 4,000 inner-city children visit suburban, rural and small town communities across 13 states—from Virginia to Maine—and Canada through The Fresh Air Fund's Volunteer Host Family Program.
When Yareli visits, the three girls spend every possible minute together, enjoying various activities. "They go bowling, and they go swimming at the pool at the Chancellor Swim Club," says Ruth. "They fly paper airplanes and play on the swings in the backyard. They do arts and crafts and play Monopoly. They even have slumber parties and sleep in the same room!" Despite the constant company these girls provide each other, Ruth claims they rarely bicker. "The only issue we have is that my daughters fight over Yareli's time."
The past two summers, the Preddys have taken mini-vacations with Yareli. "Two summers ago we went to the Massanutten Resort," Ruth recalls. "Yareli had a ball. She did the luge rides and went on a go-kart race track." Last summer's trip was equally fun. "We went to Lexington for a couple of days. We went on the ghost tours, and Yareli loved the hotel. She went to the hotel's pool and gym with my daughters."
For Yareli, there were many 'firsts' during her summer visits with the Preddys. Ruth asserts, "She had never been to a steakhouse before we brought her to one. We taught her how to bake a cake and how to make sugar cookies." Although the Preddys often have exciting activities lined up for Yareli's stay, Yareli is perfectly content regardless of the day's agenda. "She doesn't expect anything. She'll go anywhere we go." It is clear that Yareli simply enjoys being in rural Virginia with her host family, people she has quickly grown to love.
The affection in this relationship is goes both ways. "We feel like we have a third daughter," Ruth says. "We think everybody should try hosting. My kids learned a lot from her. The worst part of the trip is when she has to go home. She's always one of the last kids on the bus, and my daughters and I cry when she leaves."
The Fresh Air Fund is always seeking host families to enable as many New York City children as possible to benefit from a summer vacation outside of the city. To learn more about how to become a host family in the Fredericksburg/Culpeper area next summer, please call Shannon McCartney at 540-854-7241 or Cheryl Parks at 434-996-6596. Additionally, you can visit The Fresh Air Fund online at www.freshair.org.