TUPPER LAKE - Thanks to some local volunteers, kids from the heart of New York City are getting the chance to experience life in the Adirondacks.
The Fresh Air Fund, an organization that facilitates summer vacations for New York's inner-city youth, is continuing to foster connections between urban children and Adirondack families.
Last year, eight children were hosted in the region through the Fresh Air Fund, including homes in Tupper Lake, Wilmington, Keene, Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid.
Tupper Lake resident Deolinda Jessie is the volunteer leader for the region and said more host families are always needed.
Jessie has been hosting a Fresh Air child for the past 13 years, most of those being spent with a particular girl named Ashley.
"My daughter still stays in contact with her," she said."They e-mail, they IM. They've become good friends."
Though they generally come from low-income families and are not accustomed to dark, quiet nights, Jessie said the kids themselves are not all that different from those around here. They simply appreciate the chance to enjoy some wide-open space.
When families volunteer to host, they can indicate a preference for a child's gender and age. They must provide references and submit to a background check and home inspection.
The child's parents choose which host family to match their child with. First-time participants are between the ages of 6-12 and can stay for up to two weeks. The Fresh Air Fund pays for medical care and liability insurance for the children while on their visit.
"All people need is a bed and a drawer for the child," said Jessie, who said problems can be dealt with if it turns out not to be a good match.
The children can be invited back each subsequent summer to stay with the same family, and may continue to visit each year until they turn 18. Sixty-five percent of children who participate are invited for multiple years.
Jessie said a few local businesses support the Fresh Air Fund effort. The Wild Center and the Olympic Regional Development Authority have both been known to give free passes for Fresh Air children and the families hosting them.
Wilmington resident Sandra Ashley and her family volunteered as Fresh Air hosts for the first time this year, and testified to the joy it can offer.
"It can be the most amazing experience," said Ashley. "It's really neat to share what we have, this unique Adirondack living, with somebody who's never been able to experience that."
The Ashleys, who have five children of their own between the ages of 11 and 20, hosted nine-year-old Tyra Steadman for two weeks in July. Although they made a point to do some special outings, like tubing on Lake Champlain, Ashley said it was volunteering at the Wilmington Thrift Shop that Steadman liked the most.
"She enjoyed just being here and doing the things we do every day," said Ashley.
While some may be concerned about the resources needed to house a Fresh Air child, Ashley said the biggest investment is an emotional one.
"Two weeks go by really quick, and you really don't need money," she said. "You just need a little bit of extra time to spend with them."
To learn more about hosting a Fresh Air Child, contact Deolinda Jessie at 359-3414 or visit www.FreshAir.org.