Skylar and Elijah Mitchell and Lawrence Quartey
Potomac River Falls resident Gregory Mitchell was a “Fresh Air Fund” child — a “life-changing, character-shaping experience,” he said. Growing up in a single-parent household in the Bronx, N.Y.C. meant that he did not have an opportunity to leave the inner-city — the hot, noisy streets were the only playground he knew.
From the ages of 10-13, the Fresh Air Fund provided a two-week summer visit with a large family in New Hampshire. “This was an archetypal summer experience,” he said. “I was with an American Dream kind of family. It was very calm — they had lots of kids and a station wagon to travel in — just like families on TV. I integrated into their family, just doing the normal things that kids do in small towns in the country. It was very different from the tenement buildings in the city.”
The Fresh Air Fund was created in 1877 by the Rev. Willard Parsons, a minister from rural Sherman, Pa. He asked members of his parish to volunteer to host needy N.Y.C. children in the summer to give them a chance to get out of the inner-city and experience life in the rural countryside.
His program expanded rapidly and he secured support from The New York Tribune. The New York Times now provides media support — and thousands of children enjoy summer experiences with host families. Its website states: “We provide children with unforgettable summer experiences that unlock unlimited potential. Being a host doesn’t take a lot of money or fancy things, it just takes a big heart.”
For the past four summers, a Potomac family — Greg and Lynn Mitchell and children Skylar and Elijah — have hosted Lawrence Quartey from the Bronx. Lawrence is a rising 8th grader, the same age as the Mitchell’s son, Elijah, an 8th grade student at Norwood. Lawrence arrived on June 28 and stayed until July 12. Both boys appreciate having a close friend — almost like a sibling — to do things with.
“I like spending time with Elijah,” said Lawrence. “My favorite thing was going to Bethany Beach with the Mitchell’s. That was the best. I’m lucky to be a part of the Fresh Air Fund because it gives me a chance to get out of the city and to go nice places like Potomac.”
Elijah’s sister, Skylar also appreciates the opportunity to include Lawrence in their family activities.
Lynn Mitchell said: “When Lawrence comes, we usually have a quiet week and give Lawrence a chance to get acclimated. We include him in our regular routines. This year, he went to Calleva summer camp with my son. One year he went with us to Bethany Beach and he loved that. The first year, we took him touring in D.C. to show him all the sites of our nation’s capitol. Last year, the boys did ‘Teens to Go.’ They had a different trip every day — to Hershey Park, Kings Dominion, Cascade Lake, a ropes course. He enjoys it all. He and my son stay in touch all year long, talking about the Super Bowl, sports — or just touching base. My son plays lacrosse and Lawrence plays basketball, so they love to learn the different sports from each other. They have fun competing and teasing each other about their sports.
“I’m lucky to be a part of the Fresh Air Fund because it gives me a chance to get out of the city and to go nice places like Potomac.”
— Lawrence Quartey
“Last year, he arrived during the derecho, so that was quite an experience. We had no electricity for almost a week, so we had to come up with fun adventures that would take us to a place where there was power. It’s really not about the activities, though — you just have to set an extra place at the table or pack an extra PB&J when you go to the park.”
Lynn Mitchell now volunteers as coordinator for the program. “We are trying to get more diversity in our host families,” she said. “We also want to spread the word about this fabulous program. It makes such a difference in so many young lives — and it is very easy for a family to participate.
“Everyone can volunteer to host. It’s a great program for families with an only child. Singles, grandparents, retirees, empty-nesters — all can volunteer to take a child for one or two weeks. The children range in ages from 6 – 18, and the same children can be re-invited each year. The Fresh Air Fund also sponsors five Fresh Air Camps for inner city kids to attend. These are located in the Hudson Highlands near Fishkill, N.Y.”
One of the Fresh Air Fund mottos is “With your help, we’ll prove that seven days can change a child’s life.” To find out more about the Fresh Air Fund program, go to www.freshair.org or call 1-800-367-0003.