As a long, tan, Wade Tours bus pulled into the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church parking lot Wednesday, families lined up alongside with colorful signs, balloons and smiles.
They had been waiting to greet the children they will be hosting for a summer vacation as part of the Fresh Air Fund program. Five children, all from the New York City metropolitan area, arrived in Clifton Park to join five different host families.
Clifton Park resident Stephanie Latham and her family will be hosting Taliph Hardy-Kelly for the second time this summer. For day trips last year, the Lathams took Hardy-Kelly to the beach at Moreau Lake.
“He had a blast, and he wanted to come back,” Latham said. “He had never been on a sandy beach before, so it was really cute to watch him. He kept his socks on.
“It’s new experiences like that, that he’d never felt sand before. He was a little leery at first, but he got in the water and had a blast.”
They also did fun things at home. Hardy-Kelly cooked dinner for the Lathams, camped out in a tent the backyard with the family children and went bowling.
Regional Fresh Air Fund Chairwoman Tricia Barkman said the program has a long history of giving such experiences to urban children.
“The Fresh Air Fund has been operating since 1877, when it was founded by a Presbyterian minister who thought that children should get out of the cities during the summer for their health,” she said.
The program buses children not only to upstate New York, but also throughout New England and even to some parts of Canada. Twenty children were on the bus arriving in Clifton Park on Wednesday: five of them disembarked there, with the rest continuing on to Saratoga Springs, where Barkman’s mother, Patty Le Roy, is that area’s regional chairwoman.
Barkman said she was “born into” the program. Her mother has been involved with it for 47 years, and Barkman grew up with children from New York City that her family used to host.
Chris and Bearl Schmid greeted the child they will be hosting, 15-year-old Jemel Irby-Shabazz, with handshakes and hugs as soon as he was off the bus. They’ve been hosting Irby-Shabazz for the past five years.
“We have a good neighborhood with a lot of kids his age who he’s befriended over the past five years,” Chris Schmid said. “A lot of them are out waiting by our house for him to get home. They ride their bikes around, go to the pool, swim.”
Barkman said it isn’t too late to sign up to host a child for the Fresh Air Fund this summer. The next group of children will be arriving in the Schenectady area Aug. 8. She said hosting arrangements can be made before Aug. 1 at www.freshair.org or by contacting her or her mother.