City children come to Wilton for their 'Fresh Air'
It rained earlier in the day in Wilton. Just off Nod Hill Road, none of that seemed to matter.
“We got to see worms,” said seven-year-old Davonte Luna.
Davonte is visiting the home of Hope and Seth Perelman as part of the Fresh Air Fund. The fund, which began in 1877, was “created with one simple mission — to allow children living in low-income communities to get away from hot, noisy city streets and enjoy free summer experiences in the country,” according to its website.
Lisa Harder, chief executive officer of Appen Butler Hill, represents the Fresh Air Fund for Wilton and Ridgefield.
“Kids are paired up with families,” Ms. Harder said. “The idea is to incorporate the child into your regularly scheduled summer.”
A total of 31 families in Wilton and Ridgefield have volunteered their time to become Fresh Air families, which may surprise some who don’t see the area as being “the country.”
“One of the parents in the program now was an Irish kid who was in the program over 30 years ago,” Ms. Harder said. “He went to Binghamton for his experience as a child and didn’t realize that the Fresh Air Fund was this close to New York City.”
While there are approximately 80 buses that leave New York’s Port Authority on specific dates, Ms. Harder said that there is some flexibility with dates for families. In addition, the family may pick specific genders and age ranges. The child’s stay can run from seven to 14 days.
In Davonte’s case, he arrived via train, where with Hope Perelman he seemed immediately comfortable, and began to make friends with her boys Milo and Ezra.
“It was amazing when he got off the train. He said there’s the family, he held my hand, we got in the car and he sat with Milo and the two of them have been together,” she said. “They started playing Legos and Star Wars.”
“You’d think they were long lost twins,” Seth Perelman said.
That comfort extended to the Perelmans’ home, where Ms. Perelman said Davonte adjusted with no signs of homesickness.
“He went to bed right away,” she said.
While many families have good intentions when bringing a Fresh Air Fund child to stay with them, the reality is that they often never see that child again. The Perelmans intend to do otherwise.
“We thought it would be good for the boys,” Mr. Perelman said.
“We’re trying to build a bond,” Ms. Perelman said. “I’m from the city, and we like to go there. We’d like to meet up with him and see Davonte in his own turf. Our hope is for this bond to be formed for holidays and other visits.
“I was born in the city and I know what they’re exposed to. I want them to know the opposite of that.”
The Perelman house is a playground, with lots of space in the yard, as well as space in the house for the children to play. Three dogs make visitors feel welcomed, as they seek attention. Roosters and chickens run freely in the back yard, and chicks occupy their own space in a cage.
Taking a sip from a Superman cup while the other children enjoyed a snack at the kitchen table, Davonte said he was having fun.
“I touched the chickens and I touched the dogs,” he said with a smile.
“Is it different for you than the city?” Ms. Perelman asked.
“No,” came the reply, before laughter broke out.
“Come on!” exclaimed Ms. Perelman. “You went on the scooter and didn’t have to stop for stoplights.”
Davonte said he likes baseball, and spoke of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez in a blissfully unaware way that many fans probably wish they could also do.
“He’s good,” he said. “I play for the Dodgers. I like other sports, but my abuela hasn’t signed me up yet.”
Davonte, who lives in Manhattan, ran out to the back yard, where the livestock were waiting.
“I don’t have to wear shoes,” he said as he enjoyed the grass between his toes.
“Children in the city don’t have the same freedom,” Ms. Perelman said. “It’s great to have a backyard and trees and the quiet, and running in the woods. My children enjoy sharing and teaching.”
The Perelmans said they have a busy week lined up for Davonte, who will head back to New York next Tuesday.
“We’ll go to the beaches, museums, and take some day trips,” she said. “We plan on doing a campfire to know the experience of roasting marshmallows. We’re going to do lots of outside stuff.”
Indeed they were ready to do a fire in the pit in their yard but the weather had not quite cooperated. Still they weren’t giving up, as Davonte still had plenty of time to spend with his new friends.
“We make primitive fires,” Mr. Perelman said. “No matches allowed.”
“People know how to summer around here,” Ms. Harder said. “The kids love to swim and the fireflies are neat.”
The Fresh Air Fund isn’t just for families for stay-at-home parents, according to Ms. Harder.
“There are camps for children visiting working families,” she said. “We have programs to accommodate families who do have to work. We can also connect with other families and set up group activities.”
Back at the Perelman house, Davonte was petting a rooster being held by Mr. Perelman as his wife looked on.
“This is what we’re trying to establish,” Hope Perelman said. “He gets the opportunity to come back. We’re trying to build a lifelong friendship for our boys.”
Ms. Harder said for more on the Fresh Air Fund, visit freshair.org. She also said that people could call her at her home, 203-438-7238.