Written by Jill Nossa Wednesday, 31 July 2013 00:00
Getting outdoors and away from the noise and bustle of the city is the purpose of the Fresh Air Fund host family program, and the swimming pool was a huge hit for Jamilah Grace and Davion Savage, both from the Bronx, during their stay in Mill Neck.
“We can’t get them out of the pool,” says Donna Galgano, their host mother for the week.
Midway through their stay with the Galgano family, the children had already been on the boat, spent time at Centre Island Beach, taken a trip to the Riverhead Aquarium, and logged endless hours in the backyard swimming pool.
While Jamilah, a Bronx resident, says she swims in a nearby city pool, the closest pool to Davion’s neighborhood in Mount Vernon is an hour’s trip by bus and train..
Clearly, the “fresh air” aspect of the program was a boon for both 11-year-olds.
Dana Galgano, 15, was the one who got the family involved in setting up the host family arrangement last year.
“She filled out forms in my name, and I got a call,” says Donna Galgano.
Dana says it just struck her as a good thing to do, and, having always wanted a younger sibling, she liked the idea of having little sister or brother for the week. Last year, the family hosted a 9-year-old girl from Brooklyn. That experience was so emotionally rewarding that the family chose to continue with the program.a The second time around, they got two pre-teens
Jamilah and Davion both agreed they’d had great fun during their visit. They were comfortable with the Galganos and the welcoming community. Davion participated in the St.
Dominic’s basketball camp together with 17-year-old Andy Galgano.
Donna says she likes to provide this opportunity for the city children, who might otherwise have to spend summer days in their apartments. She mentioned the children’s amazement at some of the little comforts of the Galgano home, such as TVs in every bedroom.
“It makes you realize the things you take for granted,” she notes.
While the family is happy to participate in the program, there are challenges. For one thing, an adult is required to be present at all times, so Donna needed to take the week off.
“It is kind of a nice forced down-time,” she says. “Usually on vacation I’m running around.”
Families often feel obliged to entertain the children, which can get expensive, and is not necessary. Not all children have access to the outdoors. The Garganos realize that just opening their home to the children for a week—even without scheduled activities 24/7, gives the guests a nice change of atmosphere and new experiences.
Volunteer host families can invite the same children back every year, to really build a bond;although the parents of the children choose the host family initially.
“It’s a nice experience,” Donna says, adding that they will likely participate again next year.
As more of her children’s friends came to spend the afternoon in the pool, Donna gathered up more wet towels.
“When people ask me what I did on my vacation, I’ll tell them I washed towels,” she jokes.
The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877. For more information about hosting a Fresh Air child, call 516-364-8652 or visit www.freshair.org.