Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 28
 
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
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Fresh Air Families Share Summer Fun With Inner City Kids From New York

Linda Arntzenius

After reading about the Fresh Air Fund in the New York Times, Ann and Alec Monaghan of Princeton were inspired by their son Paul's enthusiasm to get involved.

The independent non-profit Fresh Air Fund has provided free summer vacations to more than 1.7 million children since 1877.

"We wanted to support the fund and started looking into it. What we discovered was that even more than financial support the fund was looking for loving families to volunteer their time," said Mr. Monaghan whose own children, 13-year-old Paul, 11-year-old Sophia, and five-year-old Isabelle, looked forward to their third summer with 11-year-old Anton Whyte from the Bronx.

"Anton fits right in and it's been a fantastic experience for everyone," said Mr. Monaghan.

Ann (Ansie) Monaghan agreed, "Once you have formed a relationship with a child, this takes on a whole new meaning. When Anton is delighted by a squirrel, for example, his appreciation highlights for us the natural environment that we often take for granted here in Princeton."

Anton, who has an 18-year-old sister, as well as 17-year-old and 7-year-old brothers, said that he enjoys being with the family most of all. Besides hanging out with the Monaghan children, playing ball, he'll be swimming at the Nassau Swim Club, where he learned to swim two summers ago.

Each year, the Fresh Air Fund arranges for thousands of children, between the ages of six and 18, to visit host families in 13 northeastern states and Canada. Many will reunite for consecutive summers. Last year, 14 came to the Princeton region. This year, that number was 19. "Some stay for two weeks, some for longer," said Laurie Bershad, a West Windsor resident who first got involved with the Fresh Air Fund as a host family and is now chair for the Fresh Air Fund Mercer County Committee. Ms. Bershad and her family are hosting a boy from Manhattan. "This is Jalil's sixth summer with us and he will spend five and a half weeks here and celebrate his 11th birthday, too," said Ms. Bershad. "Jalil has become a member of our family."

Anton and Jalil were among seven inner-city kids to arrive in New Jersey by bus last Tuesday to meet their host families in Mercer County.

New Jersey Idyll

For the third year in a row, 11-year-old Alanis Lopez, also from the Bronx, reconnected with a family in Lawrenceville. Kyra and Philip Duran, their 12-year-old daughter Alexis, and their dog Shadow, welcomed her arrival.

The best thing about her visit, said Alanis, will be simply having fun and spending time with the animals. Although she has a cat and two birds at home, she didn't think she'd miss them too much because of the animals here. Besides the familiar Shadow, there are four new kittens this year: Wawa, Colby, Calvin, and Hobbes.

The Duran's rescue a litter each year from a Trenton shelter and try to find homes for them. Since they don't always succeed, their home is also shared with house cats Missy (the mother of last year's kittens) and Nearly Tailless Nick (Alexis is a Harry Potter fan).

"I'll be doing a lot of bike riding and swimming," said Alanis. "And tadpole catching," added Alexis.

"We always wanted to be involved with the Fresh Air Fund in some way," said Ms. Duran, managing editor of New Jersey Municipalities, the publication of the state's League of Municipalities. Mr. Duran is a self-employed geologist who conducts geophysical investigations all over the state. They bought their Lawrenceville home some 13 years ago and have worked to restore the old house and tend nine acres that include a small Christmas tree farm and a pond with a canoe and a paddle boat, for observing the sunnies, bluegills, and a catfish or two.

Besides blackberry and raspberry patches, there are bee hives for honey. For the Durans, who maintain contact with Alanis throughout the year, summer is the time for making pies and preserves from their fruit trees, and cider when there's a surplus of apples.

Asked about her memories of earlier visits, Alanis recalled: "When I was nine, we took care of a baby bird that Alexis had rescued. We dug up worms and fed it berries." The fledgling robin survived, learned to fly, and took off, returning now and again. "It landed on my head twice," she laughed.

Asked what she will miss when she goes back to the Bronx, Alanis replied: "Every single thing."

Host families will have an opportunity to meet one another at a pool party and barbecue and a trip to a Trenton Thunder baseball game organized by the Fresh Air Fund Mercer County Committee.

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