Fresh Air kids enjoy suburban summer

Fresh Air kids know how to enjoy a summer day.

“We have zipline in our backyard. And he wakes up, goes up in the treehouse, jumps on the zipline — that’s pretty much the morning routine, wake up, run to the backyard, go to treehouse, jump on the zipline,” said Caroline Giorgio-Broekman.

The zipline enthusiast in her household is Xavier Rojos, from The Bronx.

Xavier has come out from the city to spend time with Broekman family, enjoying the pleasures of a suburban summer in Ridgefield under the auspices of the Fresh Air Fund’s Friendly Towns Program.

Xavier is eight years old. Caroline and Richard Broekman have two sons, Nicholas, 9, and Mattias, 7 — so Xavier fits right in.

“Three boys running around in my house,” Caroline said.

“They love it. It is really like having a sleepover for a week. And they really love Xavier. He was here last year and came back, so they have a real friendship with him, which is nice,” she said.

“They love him. They’re actually always arguing over who gets to sit next to him — the dynamics of ‘three’ can be a little challenging because they fight over him.”

“He’s super nice, and he’s super fun to play with,” Nicholas said of Xavier earlier this month, as the three boys enjoyed ice cream treats from Deborah Ann’s Sweet Shoppe on Main Street.

“My favorite thing about him: He’s nice,” added Mattias. “And if someone gets hurt, he’ll help them. And he listens to my mom and washes his hands without my mom telling him to.”

What does Xavier like about life in Ridgefield?

“They have Deborah Ann’s,” he said, “which has basically every kind of candy you can think of.”

Out of the city

Xavier was among four Fresh Air kids who arrived in Ridgefield earlier this month. A bus brought them out from the city to Jesse Lee Methodist Church. Also getting off the bus from New York were kids going to stay at homes in Weston, Redding, and in Westchester County, N.Y.

A second bus is expected to bring more kids to the area for the second week of August.

The Fresh Air Fund is an independent, not-for-profit agency that has provided free summer experiences to more than 1.8 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877. Each summer, thousands of children visit volunteer host families in rural, suburban and small town communities along the east coast and southern Canada through the Fresh Air Fund.

Volunteer host families share their summers for a week or more with Fresh Air children, ages seven to 18. For some Fresh Air kids, it’s their first time away from home. Others are returning to visit the same host families for consecutive summers.

Laura Craighead and Anne O’Brien are the local co-chairs for the Ridgefield-based Fresh Air program.

People interested in hosting children, or learning more about the program, can call Laura Craighead at 203-470-8575, or Nicole Johnson, a coordinator with the Fresh Air offices in New York, at 212-897-8953.

In addition to potential host families, Craighead and O’Brien are hoping to get more people to help organize locally.

“Anne and I are definitely looking for anyone who wants to get more involved in the program and help us,” Craighead said.

Boys and Girls Club

Fresh Air kids usually stay for seven to 10 days. And the Ridgefield Boys and Girls Club accepts the kids into their day camp program free of charge.

For Xavier, staying with the Broekmans, this is his second year at the Boys and Girls Club.

“He remembers it from last year,” Caroline Broekman said. “He said, ‘I’m going to the game room!’ He already has a plan for what he’s going to do.”

She noted that some of the counselors at the Boys and Girls Club day camp were former Fresh Air Fund visitors who returned year and after year and eventually got summer jobs with the club.

“And now they’re working there,” she said.

That was the case with Sean Francois, who stayed summer after summer with Laura Craighead’s family.

“We had him from the age of six and this is the first summer he’s not living with us,” she said. “He’s been living with us in the summer for I don’t know how many years. He went through the whole Boys and Girls Club program, and counselor-in-training program, and worked at Boys and Girls Club.

“He’s lived with us in the summers and worked at the Boys and Girls Club for years. I don’t even know when he started coming for full summers,” Craighead said.

“He’s now 21 and he’s heading into his senior year of college. He’s going to Texas Southern University.”

This year, as a college senior, Francois did not come to Ridgefield to work at the Boys and Girls Club.

“He has to do an internship as part of his degree,” Craighead said. “He’s studying airport management, aviation management.”

Taken for granted

Caroline Broekman said Xavier is a pleasure to have at her house.

“I think what’s really fun about hosting someone, an inner city child, is a lot of the things we take for granted here, like Martin Park, or riding your bicycle down on the cul de sac, we’re doing with him,” she said.

“He wants to come out and hang out in the backyard and plays badminton. He loves being outside — it’s really fun,” she said.

“He’s amazing. So, we’re learning a lot from him, and he’s learning a lot from us.”

After his morning zipline runs, Xavier’s practice is to make himself useful.

“Then he helps,” Broekman said. “We have four chickens. He lets the chickens out for their walk, he collects eggs…”

“But he’s not here for chores. He’s here to do the fun things an environment like Ridgefield offers a kid.

“One of the most rewarding things about the program is you are seeing life through their eyes. A lot of these experiences — like going to the lake and swimming in a pool, or running around the backyard without your shoes on — are new to them,” Broekman said.

“You get to see this new excitement for things they’ve never done — maybe swimming in a lake or riding a bicycle,” she said. “So, it’s that excitement for something we’d normally take for granted, and seeing it through their eyes, is really amazing.”

Other things the Broekmans planned for Xavier included Martin Park, the Woodcock Nature Center, and a trip to the aquarium in Norwalk.

And, of course, the three boys just have fun being together.

“There’s a lot of energy going on,” Broekman said. “But we love it.”