YARMOUTH — Caudell Walker has had many new experiences since coming to Maine a week ago.
He has tried lobster, hiked a mountain, been boating on a lake, gone swimming in the ocean and played Wiffle Ball.
“I’ve had a lot of firsts,” he said. “When I’m here I like to relax, play, have fun and be outside.”
Walker is one of many children visiting the area and staying with host families as part of the Fresh Air Fund this summer. He lives in Harlem with his younger sister and mother.
Brigid and Rob Waeldner of Yarmouth have welcomed the 9-year-old into their home for his second visit to Maine in as many years. The Waeldners have three children of their own — 6-year-old Matthew, 10-year-old Luke and 11-year-old Katie.
“I really like having him here,” Katie said. “It’s different from having two brothers, but it’s a good different. We have a lot of fun.”
Brigid Waeldner said hosting Walker is as rewarding for the family as it is for him.
“When he visits, Caudell gets an the chance to relax, to play and do things he wouldn’t normally do,” Brigid said. “In return, he gives our family such a gift as well.”
She said the summer visit encourages her children to practice patience and understanding, and teaches them about different life experiences.
Each year close to 5,000 children from New York City visit the homes of volunteer host families in 13 Northeastern states and Canada through the Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family program, Friendly Town.
Lisa Clement, representative of the fund in Falmouth, Yarmouth, North Yarmouth, Westbrook and Cumberland for the last five years, said in the past seven years the number of participating families has increased from eight to 25.
“This is a wonderful organization that changes the lives of the children and the host families,” Clement said. “On the surface it seems as though we are providing a vacation for the child, but it is amazing how much we learn while they are here.”
Clement said some families keep in touch with the child throughout the year, and up to 65 percent of children get invited back to the same house the following year.
Rolande and Joe Paolino of Falmouth signed up for the Fresh Air Fund four years ago. They host two 12-year-old girls, Isheka and Yvette from the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Rolande Paolino said she and Joe have no children of their own, but being a fifth-grade teacher helps.
“Each night we have meetings, talk about the day, and write in our journals,” she said. “I know it is an incredible learning experience for the girls, and for all of us it is a lot of fun.”
Paolino said the experience is both difficult and rewarding. It takes a lot of preparation to plan activities for the girls, but the rewards are incredible, she said.
Jane and Stephen Parker of Yarmouth have invited now 12-year-old Lateriah to visit their family for seven years. For the last two years, her cousin Ashanti Haywood has come with her.
Haywood is 9, and Jane Parker said he will remain with the family for the school year since they have filed for a six-month guardianship.
“We have an extended relationship with these children,” Parker said. “Not only does the Fresh Air Fund make a difference in the lives of the children who visit, but also for the families who host them.”
Parker said the program has provided them the opportunity to meet other families with similar values, and has been a positive experience for their own 12-year-old daughter.
“It really fills up the house,” Parker said.
While Walker’s Maine visit will come to an end on Aug. 4, he said he had a very nice time while he was here with his host family.
“I’m just having a great time with great people,” he said.
Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Waeldner family children of Yarmouth – Luke, left, Katie, right, and Matthew Waeldner in front – spend 10 days a year with Caudell Walker of Harlem, thanks to the Fresh Air Fund.