GOLDENS BRIDGE, N.Y. — A small group of New York City children arrived Monday afternoon for their chance to run barefoot in the grass and see the stars at night as part of Fresh Air Fund Westchester County’s summer stay program.
Volunteer families from North Salem, Sandy Hook, Hillsdale and other bucolic area towns gathered at the Goldens Bridge Shopping Center to meet the children, ages 6 to 18, whom they would be hosting for up to two weeks.
Dana Murray of Carmel said her children were too young the first time she saw the program advertised in The Putnam Courier. But this year, she said, "I saw [the ad] again and said it was meant to be."
She and her children Mathew, 6, and Emma, 4, camped out at the shopping center located right over the Katonah border, to welcome Kilani, 10, from the Bronx, whom they will be hosting for 10 days.
Murray said her family went through extensive interviews to take part in the nonprofit organization's program, which has provided free summer vacations to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877.
The program matches a family with a child based on a number of factors, from the age of the children in the home to pet and other allergies, Murray said.
Some children are leaving home for the first time, while others are returning to visit the same host families again. Each summer, more than 4,000 children visit rural, suburban and small-town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada, according to the group.
Fresh Air Fund volunteer Heather Stobin welcomed a 10-year-old girl from Brooklyn into her North Salem home for the second year.
"We try to do day trips with her. We’re outdoorsy kinds of people,” she said. Last year, they went on hikes, visited a farm and took a trip to Lake Compounce, an amusement park in Bristol, Conn.
"My parents live on the Connecticut shoreline so we go there, and they go clamming and fishing," Stobin said. "This year, we’re going to check out the Brownsville Quarry in Portland, Connecticut. We’ve heard good things about it."