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August 17, 2009

My Turn: Fresh Air Fund opens doors to new worlds

This week’s “My turn” column is by Darlene Pondolfino, regional chairwoman with the Fresh Air Fund.

Ever hear of the Fresh Air Fund? It’s a New York City nonprofit organization that sends inner-city kids to the country every summer.

I got involved for three reasons: my two sons and daughter. I wanted them to experience another world, and the program is a wonderful way for children to meet kids with backgrounds and lives far different from their own.

In the beginning, as every potential host family does, we went through a background check, interview and home inspection. Going through these approval steps built anticipation among my children, especially my daughter, as our choice (every family submits one) to receive a girl was confirmed.

On her arrival day, via bus from New York City, we joined other host families at Neahwa Park to greet the kids. Some were returning to families who had hosted them before. Others, like our 6-year old Chandara, were first-timers.

She stepped off the bus with a smile so big it melted our hearts. Her two weeks with us flew by and the stories we still tell today, 12 years later, are priceless.

Even our daily routines were a change for Chandara. Being in a car was something new to her, as her usual means of transportation were subways and buses.

One afternoon while driving down Interstate 88, Chandara decided to check if the car door was locked. I quickly assured her that the door was locked and that she was safe, convincing her to never open a moving car door again.

Each night we had dinner together as a family, played, relaxed and went to bed. And every morning Chandara would wake up and come running into my bed.

All was well until Saturday morning, when she came to join me and suddenly stopped to ask my husband why he was there with me.

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