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A Breath Of Fresh Air

Massapequa Park family hosts Bronx girl

Most Massapequans can relate to having an extended family. The family histories of Long Islanders in general routinely extend over bridges, passed Manhattan, into New Jersey and down the I-95 into Florida.

But one Massapequa Park family takes the family dynamic to the next level, offering up their home and everyday life to one south Bronx girl for two weeks every summer.

Working with the Fresh Air Fund, Elizabeth and Gerald Gilrane have been giving city girl Alana Stout, 12, a Long Island retreat each summer for the last six years. During her visits, Stout becomes a part of the family as they go to the park, take bike rides or just whittle away the summer days like most children.

On one uncharacteristically chilly summer day last week, Elizabeth and her five children, Kayla, 15, Gerald, 13, Megan, 11, Catie 8 and month-old Emily, took Alana to Adventureland in Farmingdale for a day of thrill rides and excited high-pitched screams.

“We wouldn’t normally go to Adventureland on a rainy day, but with Alana here we want to go out and do everything we can,” said Elizabeth. “In that way, she helps us enjoy each and every day outside.”

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. More than 4,000 children are currently enjoying their summer outside of the city with volunteer host families in suburban, rural and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada through The Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program.

The Gilranes got involved with the Fresh Air Fund because they wanted to provide a home for someone without access to everything a life away from city asphalt affords. And the benefits are two-fold, as Elizabeth said her son and daughters learn valuable lessons about appreciating what they have, while also learning that people are not that different, no matter where they live or how they grow up.

“It’s an eye opener for my children,” said Elizabeth. “Things they take for granted are new and wonderful for Alana.”

Elizabeth said the simplest of activities like riding a bike, taking a walk or doing somersaults on the lawn are things that Alana cannot normally do. Even taking a walk to the store for groceries is an activity that Alana revels in, according to Elizabeth.

During their day at Adventureland, Alana and her summertime siblings defied the unfriendly temperature, riding the log flume multiple times in a row. A soaked Alana said she loves spending time in Massapequa Park with the Gilranes because it is a completely different life than she is used to in the south Bronx.

“It’s fun. We go out to a lot of places,” she said. “But even just staying home is fun too.”

Fifteen-year-old Kayla said that Alana seamlessly integrates into the family during the summer. In fact, Alana is basically a Gilrane now, at least during her two-week stay.

“We wish she could stay longer,” said Kayla. “Things are just more fun when she is here.”

But inevitably, Alana must go home to the Bronx. And when she leaves there are hugs, kisses and plenty of tears.

“When she leaves, everyone cries,” said Elizabeth. “She’s a part of the family now. We get so used to having her here that when she’s gone, we really feel it.”

For more information about hosting a Fresh Air child, call Grace Razukas at 516-364-8652 or visit the Fresh Air Fund online at www.freshair.org.