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Vacation from the City

Inner-city New York City children enjoy time with host families in Northern Virginia for a two-week summer vacation.

For a few Northern Virginia families, welcoming inner-city children into their homes is becoming a part of summer as commonplace as trips to the beach or a baseball game.

In the city that never sleeps, sometimes-underprivileged children are lost in the mix of their parents’ busy work schedules, left with limited time to behave as children. Many live in high-rise buildings with no yard or outdoor space to play and exercise. That's when assistance from the Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit agency in New York, steps in. The agency operates the Friendly Town Program for New York City children who don't have many opportunities for a summer vacation. It sends more than 6,000 children to host families in 13 states and Canada for a free, two-week summer vacation.

"I just like the fresh air," said 12-year-old Savonda Lee, a participant in the program. "In New York it's so dirty, here it's so clean."

Lee is staying in Ashburn with her host family, Marc and Bridgette Scott, for two weeks. The Friendly Town children arrived in the area July 1, and have since been enjoying a variety of activities. As Marc Scott swam with the children at a Fresh Air Fund picnic, Sunday, July 8, Bridgette Scott took pictures while she stayed dry from the side of the pool, smiling as she watched her daughter, Madison, play and interact with Lee and another Fresh Air Fund child, Tasha Strayhorn.

“I hope they have fun and I hope I set a good example," said Bridgette Scott. "It makes me feel good when they're having a good time.”

This year, Cindy Kronlage, a Friendly Town chairperson and coordinator for Northern Virginia-area host families, and her husband, Ronald, hosted the same child for the fifth summer straight. Carlos Almanzar, 11, keeps coming back because the Kronlages, both former Peace Corps volunteers, know how to show him a good time.

“We go to the pool a lot,” said Cindy Kronlage. “Today he went to a National’s game.”

Cindy Kronlage hosted the Fresh Air Fund picnic for host families at the Rutherford Pool in Fairfax. At the picnic, the New York children fit right in with their host families’ children, laughing and playing together as if they were siblings. Carlos showed up in his red National’s T-shirt and an effortless smile beamed across his face. He said he’s a big Yankees fan, and ever since the Nationals came to Washington, he’s been a fan of theirs as well. For the Kronlages, Carlos brings joy and many great experiences to their family. It's a way to teach their own three children to be thankful for what they have, and it's also something they do because they love to help others.

“It’s moments like when he says he’s only been to the beach twice before [that make it really special],” said Cindy Kronlage.

Cindy Kronlage said Carlos has indicated he’ll be coming back until he’s 18, the maximum age allowed under the program. And it’s no surprise why Carlos wants to come back when he gets to attend a Major League baseball game, ride a bike through Great Falls, travel to North Carolina beaches, eat great food at picnics and go to the pool a handful of times, all in the short span of two weeks.

First-time host parents Bob and Kara Vessey are sure they will participate again next year as well. Their host child, Jordan, has been having a blast since he’s been here, said Kara Vessey. She said he’s a fabulous reader, and the couple has bought him some books to take back to New York. Bob Vessey also bought him a football, the very first one for Jordan, who is almost 6-years old. The Vesseys just want to make whatever difference they can in the boy’s life.

“I think it’s a wonderful experience for all of us,” said Kara Vessey.