Fresh Air trip features carnivals, beach visits
Sharing — days and nights together. Sharing a house, toys, fun. Sharing crazy silliness at bedtime. Sharing parents, even. Sharing life. It’s what kids do in the Fresh Air Program.
“I love it,” Tommy Rice, 8, said of having Tristen Alston, a kid from New York City, stay for a week in the summer. “...I love how he plays with us a lot.”
The boys play soccer, climb and swing on the play set at Tommy’s house. They swim in the family’s pool — all the time.
“I like how we go in the pool more than we usually do — we go in the pool like four times a day, we usually go twice,” Tommy said.
Tristen, 10, answers questions politely.
How does he like Ridgefield?
“It’s nice,” Tristen said.
What does he like about the town?
“The ice cream shop,” he said with a grin.
“He means Deborah Ann’s,” said Angela Rice, mother of Tommy, his little brother Lucas — and Tristen’s Fresh Air mom.
Got a favorite flavor?
“I usually get new flavors,” Tristen said.
“I like vanilla,” said Lucas, 5.
“We all get a bunch of sprinkles,” said Jason Rice, the dad in the family.
Tristen arrived for his stay in Ridgefield on Thursday, Aug. 8, on a bus — the second this summer to come out from the city to stop at Jesse Lee Church in Ridgefield, dropping off kids who are staying with families in the area.
This is Tristen’s third summer staying with the Rice family, at their home on Branchville Road. Each year he comes in early August.
“We usually go to the South Salem carnival,” said Jason Rice.
“Martin Park,” said Angela. “Martin Park’s a big one.”
“The beach!” said Tristen.
“He loves the zoom flume, the water slide at Martin Park,” Angela Rice said.
Tristan didn’t know how to swim when he first came out to stay with the Rices three years ago.
He knows now.
“I kept learning,” Tristen said.
“We had to go buy him a life-jacket that first year,” Angela said. “But it didn’t take him long to figure it out. He’s very athletic.”
Tristen sleeps in the lower bunk bed while Tommy sleeps in the upper bunk and Lucas sleeps on a cot in the same bedroom.
“They sleep in one room, all of them,” Angela said. “That’s by choice. They could all have their own room, but they choose to, because he’s here.”
“It’s a party,” said Jason.
In the city Tristen lives with his mom, Jacqueline, step-dad Jeremiah, little brother Carter, 6, and big sister, Julia, 13.
“We also have gone to see him in the city,” Angela said.
“They’ve seen his neighborhood, where he lives and the park where he plays and the ice cream store that he goes to,” she said of her boys.
“We met the family,” said Jason.
“We know his brother and sister. They came here last summer for a barbecue,” he said. “We’ve created a relationship between the two families that we enjoy.”
“His mother really values the connection,” Angela said. “When something happens in his life — school-related, or otherwise, whether it’s positive or negative — she lets me know. She’s excited to share his life with us — which is really a gift to us.
“I think she understands that we’re important to him, and that’s important to her,” Angela said. “And that’s a gift to us, that she’s willing to share her son — make us a part of his life, not just a place he goes once a year.”
Jason Rice works for Nestle Waters in Stamford.
Angela Rice is home with the kids now, but previously taught.
“I was a high school teacher and I’m just about to go back to teaching in an online high school program,” she said.
She’s also a co-president of the Branchville PTA.
She’s originally from Utica, N.Y. and he’s from Ohio. They’ve lived in St. Louis, San Diego and Okland in California, in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Shortly after moving to Ridgefield, Angela said, she and Jason became interested in the Fresh Air Program — which sends thousands of New York City children out to experience summer in the country each year, and since its founding in 1877 has brought country summers to some 1.8 million city children.
“I’d never heard of Fresh Air,” she said.
But the idea was appealing. It seemed like something that would be fun and beneficial for a city kid coming out to Ridgefield, and also for their own kids. It would be fun, and might also broaden their outlook.
“This would be a way for our kids to have a relationship with someone from a different community, who’d share their experiences of being boys, growing up, but also — because he lives in the big city, and a totally different environment — would maybe open their eyes to things they wouldn’t see day to day in their own lives in Ridgefield,” Angela said.
The minimum age for kids to leave their families in the city is seven, and the Rices waited a year to start hosting — so Tommy was five and Lucas was two when they started.
That was three years ago.
“I’ve noticed a big difference in the three years he’s here,” Angela said. “It’s in a lot of areas. At first, they were learning about each other. It was a lot of mom and dad driving the activities. Now, they hang out and play.”
There are — as always, with kids — issues.
“More than the age difference, we discovered the first year it really changed the power balance around the house — to have another child, older than the oldest sibling,” Angela said.
“Tristen, by nature, he’s very, very helpful and wants to do things around the house — which is a good thing,” she said. “But it was hard for Tommy. It seemed like he was taking over, even thought that wasn’t his intention...
“They worked that out,” she said, “and now there’s scarcely any issues.”
“For Tommy, especially, our older one, it’s helped him mature and grow up, having someone older around,” Jason said.
“And he’s become more flexible,” Angela added.
Benefits all year
While her boys enjoy and benefit from having their friend visit each summer, Angela also felt confident Tristen gets a lot out of it. There are the obvious benefits of time in the country each summer, with the swimming and sports and running around. There’s being friends with Tommy and Lucas.
And, talking with Tristen’s mother, Angela believes it helps him with things when he’s back in the city — like trying harder in school.
“It’s a real motivation for him,” she said. “He gets to come out here to see us. He wants us to be proud of him.
“I do believe it helps with with some of the day-to-day life of living in New York City — which isn’t the easiest life, all the time,” Angela said.
“It’s a very, very neat program. I’d never heard of anything like it,” said Jason. “It’s been so cool for all the boys — our two, and Tristen.”
Angela said she knew of at least one other Ridgefield family was having a Fresh Air child this summer, like Tristen a returning visitor.
“What we’ve gotten out of Fresh Air is what we were hoping for,” Angela said. “Tristen is part of our lives.
“It’s hard for me to think he wouldn’t be in touch — some way — forever, I hope.”
Editor’s note: Families interested in learning about hosting a Fresh Air child next summer should contact Nicole Johnston at email@example.com. People can also learn more about the program at the website freshair.org.