People who have lived here for years will remember when the Fresh Air buses used to roll into a parking lot at SUNY Plattsburgh.
Kids from New York City would descend the bus steps, some running joyfully into the arms of their familiar “summer families” and some tentatively embarking on their first visit to the North Country.
For weeks during the summer, you would see local families and their Fresh Air kids at local stores, beaches and playgrounds. There were fewer local people of color then, so the black and Hispanic kids from the city were noticeable. So were the evolving friendships — some of which lasted many years.
The Press-Republican interviewed many Fresh Air kids and host families over the years and found that the benefits from these visits extended in both directions.
The New York City children were introduced to family lives that were very different from their own, set amid open spaces, glorious mountains, clean beaches and safe streets.
And host families grew in cultural knowledge and also were reawakened to the beauty, simplicity and peace of this area as they viewed it through the eyes of the visiting children.
The Fresh Air Fund still sends out more than 4,000 inner-city children every summer. But, just a small number visit our area these days.
The Press-Republican asked the Fresh Air Fund to supply a count for the past three years and learned this: In Clinton County, 12 children visited last year, eight in 2012 and five in 2011; in Essex County, eight in 2013, 13 in 2012 and nine in 2011; and in Franklin County, 12 in 2013 and 11 each in 2012 and 2011.
Certainly, we can open our homes to more children. It isn’t expensive. The kids aren’t looking to be entertained every day. They just want to experience regular family life in a more tranquil setting.