Fresh Air in Falmouth: Local family shares Maine winter with inner-city child

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FALMOUTH — Lakirah McPhail’s favorite thing about Falmouth is how quiet it is.

“It’s so loud where I live,” she said. “There’s gun shots all the time.”

McPhail, 12, lives in an apartment with her grandmother, brothers and sisters, and several cousins, in Manhattan. She is in sixth grade, loves science class and plays basketball and softball.

She is also a Fresh Air kid.

The Fresh Air Fund is an organization that matches inner-city children with rural families they can visit for school vacations. McPhail has been coming to Falmouth to spend time with the Clement family since she was 5 years old.

When McPhail visits, Lisa Clement said, she loves the freedom of going inside and outside whenever she wants.

“She doesn’t get to spend a lot of time outside when she’s home,” Clement said.

McPhail also spends a lot of time with Evie Clement, who is the same age. Both girls are in sixth grade.

Usually McPhail comes to Falmouth during the summer. But this year, the Clements decided to have her visit during February school break so she could see what Maine is like in the winter.

McPhail said the cold weather doesn’t bother her. She has also discovered she loves to skate.

“I want to play hockey,” she said.

The Clements have a mini-skating rink in their front yard, where the two girls have spent most of their time together this vacation. They have plans later in the week to go snowshoeing and sledding, neither of which McPhail has ever done.

The Fresh Air Fund program is designed to give low-income inner-city children a chance to experience life outside the city. Lisa Clement got involved after she saw an ad for the program.

“For some kids, it just gives them hope,” Clement said. “They get to see life in a different way.”

Clement is now the chairwoman of Falmouth Friendly Town, a community of between 20 and 30 families that welcome Fresh Air kids into their homes every year.

She said families have to meet basic requirements to host a child, including completing background checks and having a bed for the child to sleep in. Last summer, Clement said, 22 Falmouth families hosted Fresh Air Fund children, some for the first time and some, like the Clements, who have been doing it for years.

“She really brings an energy to our family,” Clement said. “She helps us see the things we take for granted, like having a skating rink in our front yard.”

“And going through the car wash,” McPhail added.

Evie Clement said having McPhail around is great.

“We usually go outside a lot,” she said. “My cousins come over and we play capture the flag.”

McPhail has met many of the Clements’ relatives, traveling to New Hampshire to see some of them and participating in the family’s Thanksgiving dinner last year. Clement said McPhail also calls once a month to keep the family up to date on what she’s up to.

McPhail’s mother died two years ago, just before she was supposed to come to Maine for a few weeks during summer vacation. Clement said she came anyway, and had a great time.

Despite the tragedies and challenges in her life, she said McPhail is a happy child.

“She really lives in the moment,” Clement said. “Every day she asks us, ‘so what are we going to do today?'”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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Evie Clement, left, 12, of Falmouth, and Lakirah McPhail, also 12, of New York City, skate around the Clement family’s ice rink in their Falmouth yard. Lakirah has been spending time each summer with the family since she was 5 years old through the Fresh Air Fund, an organization that matches families with inner-city children. Lakirah came up for the first time to spend February break with the Clements this year so she could see what Maine is like in the winter.

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