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Fresh Air Fund gives inner city youth new perspective

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 16 2013 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 18 2013 05:52:08 AM CST

Fresh Air child gets party

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

One birthday boy got a special surprise party Sunday, and he came all the way from New York City to get it.  It's all thanks to a group that brings inner city kids to the country for a different perspective on life.

This is a story about a boy, named Robert Alston, who had a birthday party.

"We're having a surprise birthday party for his 11th birthday," said host parent Jenae Holtzhafer.

Sounds pretty routine, right?  Except this boy came all the way from the Bronx to get here.

"Robert is our Fresh Air child," said Holtzhafer.  "We've hosted him for four years now."

The Fresh Air Fund is a program that gives city kids as young as six years old a peek at another way of life.  Since 1877, the group has sent more than 1.7 million cash-strapped kids to rural areas they would rarely experience otherwise.

"It brings low-income children from the inner city of New York, all five boroughs, into locations that we call 'friendly towns' to stay with host families for one week each summer," she said.

Kids occasionally visit in the winter too.  For Robert, that's meant a host of new experiences.

"Going swimming, riding the horses," he said. 

And this weekend -- sledding.

"He loved the sledding," said Holtzhafer.  "He was actually up early in the morning, as soon as we had the snow."

At first, open space was culture shock for Robert.

"It's pretty loud [at home] because I live near the train," he said.

But kids speak a common language.

"The children were the barrier-breakers," said Jill Killo, another host parent.  "If there were ever any problems, as soon as the kids met each other, that was it."

Robert's only 11, but the experience already has him thinking about a future -- here in the Lehigh Valley.

"I want to live here when I get older," he said.

And if he does, Robert already has a place to call home.

"He's definitely part of our family," said Holtzhafer.

Click for more information on the Fresh Air Fund program