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Fresh Air kids enjoy local hospitality
By: JACQUELINE WATSON Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer
Surveying the rows of corn and freshly-mowed fields that almost reach Mark and Rosalee Massie’s doorstep in Lititz, it is easy to see how this place could be a refreshing experience for children from New York City.
Rev. Willard Parsons of Pennsylvania implemented his plan for the Fresh Air Fund in 1877. Over the years, it has grown into the organization it is today with over 9,000 students annually participating in their numerous programs throughout 13 states and two countries. These programs include Fresh Air Fund camps, educational programs, and visits to volunteer families who open their homes to the children.
Depending on the prior agreement of the children and the host family with the Fresh Air Fund, these visits can last anywhere from a week to all summer. The host families are screened for safety purposes, but are not required to have fancy cars or expensive hobbies to give children a fun vacation away from the big city. Through volunteers and donations, the Fresh Air Fund is able to offer these opportunities free of charge to children of New York City. One of the many local host families is the Massie family.
The Massie family may not be able to claim the Beverly Hills Walk of Fame, but in their Lancaster County rural locale, they have the "Walk of Massie" to be proud of. At least that is what 9 year old FAF visitor Marialicia Franqui calls the driveway leading to the Massie house, which has been covered with sidewalk chalk art by the children. Some of the phrases 10 year old FAF visitor Noveli Carlo wrote with the chalk included things such as "Ms. Rosalee and Mr. Mark are the nicest host family ever."
In addition to Noveli and Marialicia, the Massies have three daughters — Katelyn, Brianna and Melody. The playmate closest to the visitors’ ages is Katelyn. Marialicia notes, with admiration, how tough Brianna is. The youngest, Melody, shares her sweet smile. Energy seems to fill the girls and spill out into their chatter and actions. Some might find the surrounding vitality daunting, but it is clear that host parents Mark and Rosalee Massie enjoy it and the kids do not seem to use the energy to misbehave.
"They always bring a lot of life into the house," commented Rosalee.
Marialicia, of the Bronx, New York is not shy of strangers, cameras, or attention. She is very expressive as she eagerly participates in any topic discussed. She even demonstrates what they refer to as a Jamaican dance that she has tried to teach to the Massie family and Noveli.
Noveli is from Brooklyn and had already made friends with Marialicia on the bus to Lancaster before realizing that they would be staying at the same house. Noveli is quiet at first, but quickly warms up and shows her friendliness.
"They make me feel like this is my family," said Noveli of the Massie family.
According to Noveli and Marialicia, both their moms signed them up because they felt it would be a good experience for them. It is not just a chance for literal fresh country air, but also fresh experiences and new learning. One of the first things Marialicia commented on was having her own room to share with Noveli and pointed out that it was the first house she has stayed in. They also visited local attractions such as Hershey Chocolate World and the Lititz Fourth of July Parade. They, of course, have had their moments of homesickness, but they already asked if they could come back again next year.
"They asked me if I’d consider having them back. I said ‘of course,’ I don’t even have to think about it," noted Rosalee Massie.
Rosalee Massie spent her childhood growing up in different cities and now that she lives in the country she does not desire to return. The Fresh Air program gives her the chance to share the treasures she has found in the country with those who might otherwise never get to experience them.
"We wanted to kind of help out and make a difference in kid’s lives," said Mark.
Mark and Rosalee Massie enjoy meeting new people and appreciate the opportunity to interact with Noveli and Marialicia’s moms on the phone. They also note that they love having company and the five girls are good playmates for each other.
It is a cultural learning experience for both the visiting and the host family. This facet comes into the conversation as Marialicia wheedles the reserved Mark Massie into saying "ya mon," one of the Jamaican phrases she claims credit for teaching him.
"Just worth it to have these kids in our home and it’s a lot of fun and just to see the joy…it’s not perfect, but it’s all worth it…to have them experience something new, and I think it’s good for the family too to have different cultures in your home," Rosalee commented.
According to Rosalee, the children delight in spending most of their days outside. Between meals, they barely take the time to brush their teeth and clear their plate before running outside. Both Noveli and Marialicia marvel at the large yard and all the wonders associated with it. All five of the children animatedly describe the birds whose nest was knocked from a tree in the yard during a storm. They interject details as Rosalee relates the story of how they helped rescue the nest and the baby birds, from the day they were found scattered on the ground to the day they all took flight. Few kids from the city can claim having helped rescue a whole nest full of baby birds this summer.
Thanks to the Fresh Air Fund and host families like the Massies, these kids can go home with their hearts full of these precious rural and Central Pennsylvania memories. More FRESH AIR, page A14