Fresh Air Fund Gives a City Kid a Little Bit Country

By on July 15, 2015
Richelle Fenteng with Tasia, Royale, and Erin Nolt.

When you live in Brooklyn, you don’t get to run barefoot in the grass, pick fresh peaches, or toast s’mores by a stream-side campfire.

Just ask Richelle Fenteng.

The quiet 11-year-old could hardly contain her excitement as the bus from New York City arrived at Groffdale Mennonite Church in Leola July 9. She didn’t care that the skies were dark with clouds and lightning was flashing.

“I was going to be in the country,” she said.

Waiting for Richelle were Lucinda Nolt and her three daughters, 11-year-old Tasia, 9-year-old Erin, and 5-year-old Royale. It was the third time that Richelle had spent two weeks with her Fresh Air Fund family at their farmette near Clay. She couldn’t wait to take off her shoes, run barefoot, jump in the pool, and enjoy Nolt’s Lancaster County home cooking.

“What I like best is just being outdoors,” says Richelle. “That and having corn on the cob, ham and beans, and peanut butter chocolate bars.”

From the moment the family– which also includes dad Norman Nolt — welcomes Richelle into their home, she is all smiles and all energy. Her summer sisters Erin and especially Royale share her love of the outdoors and nature. They play on the swing set, play kickball, race around the edge of the surrounding cornfield, and catch lightning bugs.

“She even gets me to go outside,” says Tasia, who is usually more of an indoor girl.

The Nolts plan out a few activities for their summer child, like fishing, hiking, picking fresh peaches and cherries, going to farm markets, and toasting marshmallows and mountain pie sandwiches by the campfire.

Mostly though, Richelle doesn’t need to be entertained. She loves being in the fresh air of the Nolt’s little farm, with its greenhouse, vegetable garden, two goats, three dogs, and one cat.

“I don’t like the animals,” admits Richelle, who still hasn’t warmed up to the friendly Cavalier King Charles Spaniels the family raises or the calico cat who suns herself in the garden. And she isn’t a fan of the overly enthusiastic goats that provide milk for the family and follow them around. She might consider checking out the puppies that Roxy is about to have.

Back in Brooklyn, Richelle’s city family doesn’t have pets and she spends most of her time inside watching TV or playing games on her electronic pad. It’s not safe to run around outside and certainly not barefoot.

With the Nolts, Richelle enjoys being a part of their family — at least for two weeks and one day each summer. She counts the days. She goes to church with the Nolts, borrows her summer sisters’ dresses, and visits relatives.

She remembers her first visit two years ago when she was nine. As the bus made its way through country roads and endless fields of corn, all she could think was, “Where am I?”

Now, she knows just where she is as the Nolts drive along the narrow lane to the place that seems worlds away from nearby Lititz and Ephrata. The only hard part is leaving.

“I feel sad when I have to leave,” says Richelle, who has already decided that living in the suburbs some day will be more to her taste. “I want to live where there’s grass and trees.”

Lucinda Nolt recalls that she decided to host a Fresh Air child three years ago because she wanted to give her a chance to see what country life is like. It has turned out to be wonderful experience for her girls to get to know Richelle. Little Royale is intent on getting Richelle to share her fondness for family dogs Roxy, Lady, and Cody.

According to Marcia Weaver, Fresh Air Fund volunteer, 24 New York City children are spending two weeks with families in Lancaster, Elizabethtown, Ephrata, Stevens, Oxford, Intercourse, East Earl, Denver, Kinzers, Lititz, Manheim, Mount Joy, and Holtwood. The children range in age from six to 18, and are part of a program that was started in 1877 to bring inner city children into rural, suburban, and small-town settings where they can enjoy the outdoors and fresh air.

“I want to come back here every summer until I’m 18,” says Richelle.

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