One bit of good news we can count on passing along to you each year involves the New York City youngsters who come to visit and stay with host families.
This is arranged by the Fresh Air Fund, and those who are involved on both ends of the deal say it has to be experienced before you can believe it.
Recently, a busload arrived in Frostburg to be greeted by their host families. (See: “Local families welcome ... ,” June 29 Times-News, Page 1A.)
One of the youngsters told our reporter Brandon Glass that she was looking forward to going swimming.
The concept that brings underserved city youth to Allegany County and other less-urban places hasn’t changed since the Rev. Willard Parsons came up with it more than 140 years ago: the desire to give a breath of fresh air to someone who needs it.
The direction a child’s life takes can be influenced just as much by its birthplace as by any medical condition.
Some kids just don’t have a chance from the time they’re born. They have little to look forward to, and virtually no hope of finding something better.
America’s epidemic of crime and drug abuse isn’t fueled by an epidemic of evil so much as by an epidemic of hopelessness.
Providing young people a good education and an opportunity and incentive to use it is one key to reversing this problem.
So is proving to them that a better life exists somewhere and that is possible to escape from that hopelessness.
This is what the Fresh Air Fund does, at least on a small scale, and the Times-News has been telling its readers about it for a number of years.
Here is some of what we’ve brought you in the past:
• Rose Skinaway was 5 years old and living in New York City when she came to Allegany County for the first time in 1977. She spent each summer for the next eight years with Linda Mellon, who continues to be a volunteer leader for the program and host.
Skinaway told us last year that she remembers the swimming lessons and camping trips and hours spent digging in the garden, and not wanting to go home.
She was the first child Mellon ever hosted. They reconnected a few years ago and remain in touch.
“It actually had a significant impact on my life,” said Skinaway.
• Ahmad Salman came to Cresaptown to visit the Frankenberry family. He went to the kiddy pool and a playground, visited Grandma’s house and played miniature golf.
He’s from the Bronx and said, “This is, like, peace.”
• The Eichhorn family met Elijah, a youngster from New York City, in 2013. He contacted them the following summer and said he had a list of things he wanted to do here and friends he wanted to see.
They went camping, fishing, swimming and sitting around campfires, things Amber Eichhorn said are a regular part of her family’s lives.
Without The Fresh Air Fund, she said, they never would have known Elijah and “We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to share our life and love with him.”
• Rachel Eubank of Fairmont, West Virginia, told us that “A lot of these kids are afraid of the dark because it’s never dark in the city.”
She said. “They’ve never run in the grass with no shoes on, they’ve never gone fishing. Some of them have never even ridden in a car before they come out to do this.”
Eubank said the experience of hosting a youngster from Harlem helped her children develop a greater appreciation for what they have.
“These kids are just overwhelmed with things like having your own house, being allowed to play outside after it’s nighttime,” she said. “You’re allowed to take a walk. Those things are amazing to them.”
• Sonya and Christopher Morgan of Cumberland played host to Antonio and took him camping and fishing and on trips to the beach — as much outdoor fun as they could manage.
Sonya said her own children were shocked that Antonio would run outside, first thing in the morning.
“We took the ability to just run outside and play in a yard for granted,” she said, but Antonio did not. It was a new and wonderful experience for him.
She said, “You go into it (hosting a Fresh Air kid) thinking you’re going to have a huge impact on these kids, and they end up having an even bigger impact on you.”
It’s astounding how people who seemingly have nothing in common can become the closest of friends, once they get to know each other.
The Fresh Air Fund makes life better for all those who are involved, and America could use more of it.