Fresh Air Fund brings city kids to Maine families for summer fun
FALMOUTH — With the cold, rainy weather hopefully a fading memory, families are finally gearing up for all that's terrific about Maine summers.
And some of them are sharing all that sun, water and outdoor entertainment with children from New York City, many of whom have never been away from home.
These young people, ranging from 6 to 18, are staying with families in Falmouth and other towns in 13 northeastern states and Canada through the Fresh Air Fund. Since 1877, the organization has given more than 1.7 million children free summer vacations. Last year, 16 of these children stayed with host families from Falmouth.
For some, this is the first time they have vacationed with their host families. For others, like 11-year-old Evelyn Merino, of Queens, it is a return visit.
This is Merino's third year with Greg and Chantal Scott and their four children, Jaclyn, 17, Weston, 15, Leika, 12, and Gibson, 8. Summers at the Scott home involve water sports right outside their front door. The family lives at the end of Rock-A-Way Road, right on Highland Lake. And by opening their home to Merino, they have opened her world to new activities and experiences.
"I taught (Merino) how to fish," Gibson Scott said.
Though she said she didn't catch anything last year, this year gives her another chance to try for the ones that got away.
A bit shy, Merino said she likes to visit Maine and the Scotts because she gets "to do new things." She likes to go tubing behind the power boat and enjoys the woods surrounding the house.
"And I got to go to a sleepover," she said.
It was her first-ever sleepover.
Other firsts from her visits were helping drive the boat, jumping off the dock and going to Funtown. In fact, Chantal Scott said they had figured out the first year that she had done 19 new things within 24 hours of her arrival.
But Merino has opened the family's eyes, too.
Jaclyn Scott said she was struck by "how close the distance is between the two families, but at the same time the lifestyles are completely different."
In New York City, Merino lives in an apartment building and gets around on foot or by taking a train, bus or taxi. Since she never rides in cars, the Scotts had to show her how to fasten her seat belt when she first arrived. Though her life is different in the city, Merino's face lit up as she talked about it – her close relationship with her family and her pride in her father, who is a restaurant chef, and his delicious cooking that includes ceviche with shrimp that he sometimes makes for the family.
When asked if she, too, likes to cook, she smiled shyly, "I cook eggs and cereal." But she said she hopes to learn from her father.
In between their visits, the Scotts and Merino send photographs and cards to keep in touch.
And each time Merino returns, it's easy for everyone to pick up right where they left off.
"It makes you appreciate what you take for granted every day when you take a child into your home," Chantal Scott said. "It touches your heartstrings that you can share it with someone."
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.