Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 32
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
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For Fresh Air Fund Children in Princeton, It’s the Little Things That Impress the Most

Anne Levin

For eight-year-old Legend, it was all about the pool. Emerging from the water at Nassau Swim Club for a quick bite of broccoli and dip before plunging back in, he was clearly enjoying himself. The scene last Monday evening was the annual pool party for local families and the children who are visiting them courtesy of The Fresh Air Fund, which gives inner city kids a chance to experience the pleasures of summer in rural and suburban locales.

Some 25 children from the New York City area have been swimming, riding bikes, visiting museums, going to baseball games, and just spending time with their hosts since arriving in Princeton Junction by bus on August 1. The pool party on Tuesday was a gathering of the 23 families from Princeton, West Windsor, and other parts of Mercer County, before the kids make the trip back to the city on Thursday.

Legend, whose home is in the Bronx, had plenty of company in the water, including his eight-year-old “brother” Luke. “This is Legend’s third year with us,” said Rachelle Simon, Luke’s mother. “The boys are really like brothers. They fight a little, but they get along better each summer.”

Since 1877, the non-profit Fresh Air Fund has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.7 million inner-city children living in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The agency also sponsors summer camps in 13 states and Canada. For the children and the families who host them, lasting relationships are often formed. Like Legend, many of the youngsters visiting the Princeton area families this summer are return visitors.

For Darlene Plummer, her husband and two teenage children, this summer marks the second time 12-year-old Kyle and 11-year-old Jamell are staying with them in West Windsor. She introduces them to people as her nephews. Ms. Plummer is repeatedly struck by the small things that impress the boys.

“We’ve taken them to do a lot, but it’s amazing how much they appreciate the little things,” she says. “They love school playgrounds, because they’re safe and they have grass and no drug dealers. They thought Sam’s Club was the greatest place in the world, because of the free food samples everywhere. They ride bikes. They play with chalk for hours. We just keep them really busy.”

Riding bikes, learning to swim, and running barefoot through the grass are priorities each summer for the children who come to stay with local families, says Laurie Bershad, chairperson for the Mercer/Middlesex arm of the Fresh Air Fund program and a host to the same child for the past several years. “They get to do things they can’t do at home, and they look forward to it,” she said. “Once in a while, someone will be homesick. But most of them adjust quickly and the families have them back, year after year. It’s a wonderful program.”

For Ned Wingreen, father of Luke and co-host to Legend, watching Legend experience the ocean for the first time is something he will never forget. “We took him to the beach the first time he visited us. To see him just screaming with excitement, getting knocked down by a wave and then jumping right up again for more, was something,” Mr. Wingreen said. “Legend learned to swim here. It’s nice to be able to do things with him that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.”

Melanie Stein and her four-year-old son Adam are hosting eight-year-old Joel this summer. While they originally thought they’d have a child closer to Adam’s age, the arrangement has worked well. “Princeton is a beautiful town, and I thought it would be nice to share it with him,” Ms. Stein said. “I think it’s interesting to see your town through someone else’s eyes.”

Joel, who comes from Staten Island, took a break from the pool to talk about his experience. “The best thing about it is that I get to meet new people,” he said. “And we went to the [Princeton] art museum. I’d like to go to another family next year with older kids, but then come back to this family again the year after that.”

Donna Cosgrove and her daughter Kate Voynow, who is 14, hosted Anayia this summer for the second time. “To be nine years old and taken out of your environment is a big deal, and she has done so well,” Ms. Cosgrove said. “Anayia is a lot of fun. She’s curious, sweet, and very smart.”

This year’s visit went quickly, but it is likely that most of the children will be back again next summer. “Sometimes it’s challenging,” said Ms. Plummer. “But it’s all worth it when you know you might have made a difference in their lives.”

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