Ever since Tammy Gosselin’s parents invited a child from New York City to stay with her family when she was 8 years old, she knew she wanted to do the same thing.
On Tuesday, the Gosselin family carried out a tradition that was started by the Fresh Air Fund in 1877. They were at Roger Williams Park to meet the bus carrying Curtis and eight more city kids. Curtis, 15, has been staying with the Gosselins for a few weeks every summer for the past five years.
The Fresh Air Fund, also known as the Friendly Town Program, arranges for children from disadvantaged New York City communities to visit with host families in 13 Northeastern states and Canada. Curtis is one of 1.7 million inner city children that have been able to escape city life and experience summer in ways they never could at home.
“It gets me out of all the gang stuff. In the summer I can’t even walk to the park at night without getting shot at,” said Curtis. This is just one of the reasons Curtis enjoys staying with the Gosselin family every summer; he’s finally able to play outside at night.
Curtis will spend the next two and a half weeks with Tammy and Roland Gosselin and their three children, Kevin, 15; Kurtis, 19; and Kaleigh, 6. Curtis was 10 when he began staying with the Gosselin family but first-time children can range between the ages of 6 and 12. Children are allowed to continue in the program until age 18, which Curtis plans to do.
Curtis and the Gosselin family have visited many areas in Rhode Island during his stays here.
“We brought him to Six Flags a couple of years and we’ve taken him to [my hometown of] Vermont, where he got to see more farmland,” said Tammy. “We go to the beach and we have our own pool. He skateboards, plays basketball and we take him to baseball games.”
Despite their travels, Curtis’ love for his “summer home” remains the same.
“My favorite place in Rhode Island is obviously their house,” said Curtis.
According to Kurtis, he is just as glad as Curtis that he gets to have a “summer brother” every year. “I’m really glad we’ve gotten to have the same person with us for the past four years,” said Kurtis.
The Gosselin family isn’t the only Rhode Island family working with the Fresh Air Fund. Families across the state are getting involved in the program, including Warwick residents Hollis and Catherine Gates. This will be the Gates’ sixth summer with their Fresh Air Fund child Tajere, 13, who is only a year younger than their son Tyler. Tajere will be arriving in Rhode Island in August.
According to Hollis, hosting Tajere is less about charity and more about family.
“It’s not this wonderful charitable kind of thing as far as we’re concerned,” said Hollis. “He’s like another son that we love and we look forward to being a part of his life forever.”
Fresh Air Fund Representative of Rhode Island Lynne Finocchiaro agrees with the Gates that the program is not only beneficial to the visiting children but also to the host families and the community as a whole.
“When we have visitors, we do more,” said Finocchiaro. “We go to the beach and do more activities than we would if they weren’t here and it gives families an opportunity to volunteer all together. That’s pretty rare.”
The program is run primarily by individual contributors and costs $923 per child, per summer. More than 65 percent of all children are re-invited to stay with their host families every year, just as Curtis and Tajere have been. The program is still looking for host families for next year and this summer’s August group.
Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the Fresh Air Fund, 633 Third Avenue, 14th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10017, or made online at www.freshair.org. Families that wish to host a child can write to the same address, fill out an inquiry online, or call 800-367-0003 for more information.